Jarno Trulli is confident that Lotus has made a 'huge' step forward with its 2011 car - though he warned that with reliability having been less than perfect in testing, it could be some races before the T128 shows its potential.
Lotus halted development on its 2010 chassis - a hurried and basic design created just to get the team on the grid after its late entry decision - last summer to put maximum effort into the 2011 design, which features a switch to Renault engines and Red Bull transmission systems.
Trulli said the new rear-end package had made an enormous difference.
"We have one of the best rear ends you can have in the paddock, because the gearbox is amazing, as well as the engine," he told AUTOSPORT in an exclusive interview. "Everything fits perfectly. The car looks good, and it looks quick as well.
"If I have to compare to last year, it's day and night. It's a huge step forward, and everybody has been working really hard.
"Mike [Gascoyne] has been putting things together, and Tony [Fernandes] has managed to give us a really good rear end that will solve our troubles in terms of reliability and performance, everything. The team has to think and concentrate about getting it right on the suspension side, on the stiffness side, and on the aero side. I think they've done great things over the winter time, catching up with all the new rules, and with all the new bits."
He admitted that Lotus was short on mileage after various reliability issues in testing, but still feels it has pulled clear of its fellow 2010 entrants and is ready to attack the established midfield teams.
"So it might be difficult at the beginning, but maybe then we can get on top," said Trulli. "Looking at the lap times it's difficult to get a clear idea, but we can probably chase Force India and maybe Sauber. Obviously we are ahead of Virgin and HRT. This at the moment is the picture that we have."
AUTOSPORT PLUS subscribers can click here to read a full exclusive interview with Trulli on both Lotus's 2011 programme and his views on all the changes in the sport for the new season.