Team Lotus hold F1 race pace hope for Chinese Grand Prix
Chief executive Riad Asmat believes Team Lotus are already making their mark on Formula One's midfield as they prepare for race day in Shanghai.
The Hingham constructors have enjoyed a trouble-free weekend so far, but the relatively low temperatures in China meant drivers Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli had to settle for another Q1 exit from Saturday qualifying.
However, despite the two T128s starting 19th and 20th for Sunday's race, Asmat is confident Team Lotus can continue to build on their encouraging show in Malaysia seven days ago.
'We are realistic and we all knew when we woke up that the considerably lower temperature would mean we would struggle to replicate what we did in Friday's practice,' said Asmat.
'Despite that we have had a good weekend so far, pretty much trouble free, and I know from talking to a few of the teams just ahead of us that we are starting to play a part in their strategies as they know we are very close to being able to take the fight to them in real pace.
'So, even though the gap is a bit bigger today (in qualifying) than we would have liked, it is still clear that our steady progress will pay dividends over the long term.'
Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel made it three pole positions from three this season in his Red Bull, ahead of the McLaren duo of Jenson Button (front row) and Lewis Hamilton.
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But Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber's nightmare weekend continued as he suffered a shock exit in Q1, meaning the Australian will start from just in front of the Lotuses, 18th on the grid.
The Norfolk marque had Brazilian reserve driver Luiz Razia involved in Friday's morning practice session, but all weekend chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne has been aware the lower temperatures compared to Malaysia – where Team Lotus were hot on the heels of Toro Rosso – could be an issue leading up to Sunday's race.
'I think Shanghai will be another interesting weekend for us, especially as we have had two races so far in such different conditions,' said Gascoyne. 'In Melbourne the tyres lasted longer than I think everyone expected and then in Malaysia there was much higher drop-off and multiple stops as a result. In China we will all be in slightly unknown territory with the tyres and the cooler temperatures will mean the most important goal for us will be to maximise our track time.'
Kovalainen said: 'From my perspective I'm very happy with that (qualifying). I left it all until the last minute and swapped to a one lap run, putting myself under a bit of pressure, but I put in a good final lap and got under 1 min 38 sec.
'After free practice three (Saturday morning) we already knew we'd have a bit of a tricky qualifying session as the track temperatures were a lot lower than Friday and that definitely affects our car.
'We're quite easy on the tyres and when the temperatures drop we need to work harder to get them up to the optimum heat, which means we don't get everything out of them, but in the race conditions we're definitely stronger and you can see that we're steadily doing what we want which is to keep pushing towards the midfield.'
Trulli added: 'I am really happy from the driving point of view because I pushed hard out there and said over the radio I think I got as much as I possibly could out of the car.
'I'm still working on finding the right balance but little by little we're progressing so I think we keep on doing a good job across the whole team and after a good weekend from the reliability point of view we should have a good race.'