Heikki Kovalainen delighted with Team Lotus finish in China

Heikki Kovalainen hailed Team Lotus's 'best ever performance' as the Hingham outfit finished ahead of two midfield cars in a compelling Chinese Grand Prix.

The Norfolk marque made good on their promise to be battling on the fringe of the established teams early in 2011 thanks to the Finn, who came home 16th in Shanghai – ahead of rookies Sergio Perez in a Sauber and Pastor Maldonado's Williams.

Lewis Hamilton ended championship leader Sebastian Vettel's early season dominance with a sublime drive in his McLaren to pip the German to the win, while Vettel's Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber pulled off an arguably better drive to turn his shock 18th place start on the grid to a podium finish.

And Kovalainen's drive was also worthy of praise as Team Lotus' two pit stop strategy served him well, while Jarno Trulli came home 19th.

'That is our best ever performance,' said Kovalainen. 'It's not the highest place we've had but today we beat two midfield cars in a straight fight, so I am very happy – with my performance and the performance of the whole team.

'We knew we would struggle in the cool conditions on Saturday but today the temperatures rose and we expected to be able to put in the sort of race that would do justice to the pace that is in the car.

'We will keep working hard to improve the car's behaviour in the cooler conditions and we can only get better from here.'

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Trulli added: 'Really today is about the team result. We have shown we are developing exactly as we want to and that's a huge motivation for everyone.'

After back-to-back racing weekends in Malaysia and China, as well as the opening round in Australia, the calendar resumes in three weeks' time at the Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul.

And Norwich-born chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne was happy with the efforts of all concerned in Shanghai.

'That was an absolutely fantastic race from both drivers and from the pit crew, who performed brilliantly under huge pressure,' said Gascoyne.

'It is very satisfying to have beaten two other midfield teams on track on pace and strategy, and to be able to show that we have bridged the gap to the established teams.

'With the tyre degradation we were able to stick to two stops, which was always our plan and that allowed us to jump a couple of people, giving us our strongest race in F1.

'Additionally, we were only lapped once, right towards the end of the race, so I am very proud of the whole team today.'