Lotus Racing narrowed the gap to the more-established teams further in qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix, with Heikki Kovalainen’s fastest lap just two tenths behind that of Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi.
Kovalainen’s teammate Jarno Trulli will start the race one place behind the Finn, with Lotus occupying Row 10 of the Montreal grid.
There are of course some extenuating circumstances – Kobayashi is making his Canada debut this weekend, while Kovalainen has raced here on two previous occasions – but the man who finished fourth here in 2007 was understandably very happy with the improved pace of his Lotus.
“I've felt like I’ve done a few good qualifying laps this year, but this one was really good,” said Kovalainen. “I've had a decent balance all weekend, and yesterday I didn't have any problems, so I could find a good setup and had the confidence to push.
“We just need to find a little bit more to really take the fight to the guys in front, but tomorrow I think we can race them, I think we can have a go. I thought I had Kamui for a while, but he just got in front at the end, but you always find a little bit more when you think you can get the guy ahead and that shows how far we've come.
“Today shows we're making progress all the time – we were only two tenths away from Sauber today which is just great for the whole team.”
Jarno Trulli has had a difficult weekend, with limited running in the practice sessions due to the dreaded hydraulic problems. He was a little more downbeat after qualifying, despite qualifying comfortably ahead of both Virgins and Hispanias.
“It's been tricky this weekend as I haven't managed to complete that many laps and haven't been able to find a setup I'm really comfortable with,” said the Italian, who now has a 4-4 record in qualifying against Kovalainen this season.
“We went with the primes to begin with today, and I could see that I was close to the guys in front, so I took the gamble and went for the options at the end, but unfortunately it didn't work out. The aim tomorrow is to finish the race, and I'm optimistic we can do that, so let's see what I can do.”
Like all the teams in qualifying, Lotus had a dilemma over which tyre to use for qualifying on a track that was still pretty slippery. Mike Gascoyne, the Chief Technical Officer, explained that Kovalainen successfully got the harder of the two Bridgestone compounds working in qualifying, and that gamble by Trulli to use the super-soft tyres for his last run didn’t pay off:
“It's been a very strong qualifying for the team today. The big question was tyre choice; both drivers did their first run on the harder tyre, and Heikki decided to stay with that, while Jarno switched to the option. I think Heikki managed to get a lot out of it, and it's a sign of how far we've come that we came very close to out-qualifying one of the Saubers – it would have been another great step forward for us to beat one of the established teams in a straight fight, and we're nearly there.
“Jarno didn't quite get the lap time out of the option tyre on his last run, and I think we as a team have to take responsibility for that – his lack of running yesterday really hurt his chances, especially on the options, so we have to say sorry to him for that. But overall it was a great performance from the whole team. Looking at tomorrow, this is always one of the unpredictable races, so you never know, but our aim will be to get the two cars to the finish”
Team principal Tony Fernandes revealed that, although it was nice to be so close to the time set by Kobayashi, the real aim for this weekend is to get both cars to the checkered flag:
“It's funny – a really good qualifying session for us, but really this weekend is all about getting cars across the finish line on Sunday,” said Fernandes. “Having said that, today was another big step forward for us as we were just 2.34 seconds off the outright pace in Q1 and to be so close to a Sauber in qualifying is absolutely great, but also a bit frustrating as it would have been even better to beat an established team, and that shows just how far we've come in such a short time.
“Heikki did a fantastic job to push Kamui so hard, and Jarno also performed extremely well to stay ahead of the other new teams, particularly bearing in mind how little running he had yesterday.
“Tomorrow's all about seeing the chequered flag, and that's what we're really focussing on, but I also think we can take the fight to the guys ahead, and I can't wait to see how it pans out – bring it on!”