Lotus teams enjoy a decent grand prix in Suzuka

Heikki Kovalainen admitted his dream start in Japan caught everyone by surprise.

The Finn found himself up to 14th as he flew the moment the lights went out, on an afternoon when Hingham's Team Lotus managed to get both cars home without being lapped.

In the end the Norfolk marque had to settle for 18th and 19th from Kovalainen and team-mate Jarno Trulli respectively.

'I made an incredible start, no wheel spin, the perfect clutch slip and was suddenly past a load of cars and up into 14th,' recalled Kovalainen.

'It looked like everyone else went into reverse and I even heard one of the engineers laugh and accidentally telling someone else how brilliant the start was, and I thought 'no, don't mention it now – I need to get on with the rest of the race!'

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'The car was working really well on the soft tyres and the stops were mega, and then the safety car came out and bunched everyone up so from there it was a race to the flag with Jarno and I stayed ahead until the last lap.

'The fact that this is the first time this season we didn't see any blue flags is very satisfying. Every time you have to let someone pass you are artificially slowing up your own race, and it shows our car keeps improving, as does the whole team.

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'OK the safety car helped us, but then you have to be in the right place to take advantage of whatever happens on track, and we did just that. A great day.'

Following on from encouraging signs in Singapore a fortnight earlier, there seems to be some growing – if steady – momentum behind Team Lotus as they head into what is likely to be a vital winter of changes.

Norwich-born chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne added: 'That was a really pleasing race weekend for the whole team. For the first time both cars finished on the lead lap and even though we were helped by the safety car our level of performance was still the best we have ever seen relative to cars around us.

'Both drivers pushed throughout the whole race, right up until the last lap and I think we managed to extract every ounce of performance we could from the cars.

'All in all this was a very professional job right across the board and I want to thank the whole team for the work they have put in here, and give my congratulations to everyone.'

The weekend was also a better affair for Group Lotus-backed Renault, who recovered from a torrid weekend in Marina Bay to see Vitaly Petrov pick up ninth and a couple more championship points – although Bruno Senna could only come home 16th.

Team principle Eric Boullier said: 'It was good to be back in the points. We had a different strategy to most of the teams and it worked reasonably well for Vitaly, but not so well for Bruno who struggled with a lot of traffic.

'Unfortunately the safety car did not help us either, but at least we have two more points to help us hold off the threat of Force India in the constructors' championship.'

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