Caterham technical director Mark Smith admitted it was a tough day at the office for the Norfolk outfit in China.

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The Hingham-backed team almost finished with Vitaly Petrov on the lead lap, but team-mate Heikki Kovalainen endured trouble late on that effectively ended his race early as the Caterham’s came home 18th and 23rd respectively.

It was a big day for Smith, who for the first time took over the pit wall from the group’s Norwich-born chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne.

“Today’s race was pretty tough, but I am pleased with the way both drivers kept pushing and I think we have learnt some very useful lessons here in China,” said Smith.

“Our pace in the early laps was good. Both drivers switched to the medium compounds for their second stops and we were easily pulling away from the cars behind but then when Heikki stopped on lap 30 he felt a problem with the rear of the car as soon as he pulled out of the pit lane, so had to do a very slow lap and come back in.

“Vitaly had a problem-free afternoon and was putting in good lap times, staying on the lead lap until almost the final lap and with every race he is growing more and more confident in the car and with the team.

“Now we have another week of hard work ahead of us so we will do our best to make the most of the different conditions we will face in Bahrain and aim to get back to where we know we should be.”

Kovalainen acknowledged Shanghai had not been the team’s strongest weekend, with the usual Q1 exit in qualifying on Saturday, but Petrov was more buoyant after crossing the line.

“I am really pleased with my performance today; I think we got as much out of the car as we could and the fact we were on the same lap as the leaders right up until the final lap is a very positive sign,” said the Russian.

“We brought some updates here and they’ve worked out pretty well – the key for us is to keep pushing, keep bringing new parts to the car and make sure we maintain the momentum we are building up.”

Team principal Tony Fernandes added: “The whole team did very well today and for me that was one of our most competitive races since we joined Formula One. There were no safety cars and yet we were incredibly close to finishing on the same lap as the leader.

“We have also taken another step forward in the direction of the overall business, with Mark Smith assuming his position on the pit wall today and Mike’s new role giving us a clear vision on where we are taking both the F1 team and our road car and technical operations.

“We also have John Iley starting with us in the next couple of weeks to boost our capabilities back at the factory, and the wind tunnel operations will be going 24/7 in the next couple of months. With all of this I feel very optimistic about the future and leave China knowing we are going in the right direction.”

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