Lotus confident it can emerge as third fastest team behind Red Bull and McLaren

Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean are ready to emerge as McLaren and Red Bull Racing's main threat for victory, reckon their Lotus team, if the duo can finally enjoy a trouble-free weekend

Lotus confident it can emerge as third fastest team behind Red Bull and McLaren

The Lotus E20 has shown promising potential in the first two races of the year - especially in qualifying - but it has not been able to prove just how good it is in the races yet.

Grosjean retired early on in Australia and Malaysia following crashes, while Raikkonen's form has been hindered by getting knocked out in Q1 at Albert Park and then suffering a gearbox penalty at Sepang.

Those circumstances mean that Lotus does not yet know for definite how quick it is, but trackside operations director Alan Permane has reason to believe that the potential is there for the team to be best of the rest behind the leading two teams.

"It would be nice to have a straightforward race with no penalties, and no crashes from Romain after the first couple of corners," Permane told AUTOSPORT.

"I think it is McLaren and Red Bull Racing at the front, and then I think we are there. I know Mercedes were third on the grid in Malaysia, but their race pace is nothing special.

"We saw [Nico] Rosberg pit for some new inters in Malaysia when we were racing him, and I thought we were going to be in trouble there. But his pace was then the same, if not worse than ours. Mercedes will get on top of it, but at the moment their race pace isn't a threat.

"And although Ferrari did a great job in the race in Malaysia, if they are going to be qualifying 10th or 12th, while we are third and fifth and a second ahead of them in qualifying, it is going to make a difference.

"It will not take them long to improve, and they will throw everything that have got at it, but we have got stuff coming as well.

"It's going to be a good battle. To be in a development race with them, Red Bull Racing and McLaren - who are proper big boys - means it will take everything we've got to stay with them."

While some teams - like Sauber and Ferrari - appear to have better race pace compared to their qualifying form, Permane reckons that Lotus is strong enough to be as good on a single lap as it is in the race.

"In qualifying trim we've shown our car is good," he said. "We could have been on the front row, or even right at the front, with Kimi in Malaysia.

"On race pace it is more difficult to say, because we haven't seen it, but there is no reason to think it won't be good. All through testing the car has looked easy on the tyres, and if you have the raw pace then you just need to put the fuel in and go.

"We won't see that though until we get a normal race. So we just want to qualify both cars in the top ten, have no penalties, no gearbox problems, no crashes at the first few corners and then have a good dry race. Hopefully in China we can do that."

Permane thinks that having a car like Sauber, that appears exceptionally good on Sundays, may not be ideal if the speed is not there in qualifying.

"When you get to the front and can race at the front, you have a clear track and you get dragged along and the confidence builds," he said on the back of Sergio Perez's stunning drive in Malaysia. "There is no doubt that they have a quick car in race trim, that is for sure.

"But they are not so good in qualifying. Maybe it is that easy on tyres that they cannot turn them on for the first lap in qualifying, and then by the second lap the shine has gone off them so they are not working properly.

"Those characteristics will help them in the race - because they will have lower wear and lower temperatures than others, so it may well be that. But on a more normal situation, when you qualify at the front, and have that pace, you will go away from them and they will get caught up in the midfield.

"Ultimately I would rather have the car we have now, even though the Sauber does look strong in race trim."

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