Team Lotus enjoyed a positive qualifying session for the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang, where they finished within half a second of the midfield pack.
At the home Grand Prix for the team's Malaysian management, drivers Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli appeared to be in contention to make it through to Q2 for much of the session before finishing up 19th and 20th. Kovalainen's time was only 1.9 seconds off the fastest time in Q1 and less than half a second behind the Williams of Pastor Maldonado.
Kovalainen was delighted with the team's performance. “That was a great session for us and I’m really pleased with how we’ve performed,” said the Finn. “After yesterday, I didn’t really know what to expect going into today’s sessions but the guys have done a great job to give me a car that is totally different to yesterday. As soon as I went out on track this morning I could feel there was a huge improvement in every area and we have had no reliability issues at all today so I was able to really push.”
Kovalainen is looking forward to the race, where he feels the team will be able to continue to perform competitively. “I’ve enjoyed the whole day and I felt like I was able to get the best out of the car in all the runs,” he said. “There’s still a bit more to come so I think tomorrow will be a really interesting race for us, particularly when you see how close we are to the midfield, and with the pace we know the car has in race trim.”
Trulli echoed his teammate's sentiments. “Today’s performance is obviously a lot more positive for the whole team,” the Italian said. “We had no issues with the car in either session and I think we got pretty close to showing what the car can really do. FP3 was very useful and we have also taken some good data from qualifying itself as we tried to get the best out of the car.
“The plan for tomorrow is to keep consistent and reliable, take our chances when they come and be there at the end. It is a long and very hot race where anything can happen but I think we are ready for it, so let’s see how it goes.”
Team Principal Tony Fernandes was delighted with the team's qualifying performance. “Words cannot express how happy and overjoyed I am right now,” he said. “To see 18 months of hard work come good with us finishing within a couple of tenths of teams that have been around for a long time, and less than a second away from the midfield pack, that is an amazing achievement. It is made even more satisfying after what has been a pretty hard winter test program, taking on the issues we have been working through and, honestly, not a great start to the season – but this is a great feeling.
“Both Heikki and Jarno know there's more to come from the car, and we feel good about the race this weekend. The aim is to keep our reliability and bring two cars home. I am really proud of the team, particularly after such a hard winter, so I take my hat off to every single one of them for keeping up the progress and helping us reach where we are today.”
Chief Technical Officer Mike Gascoyne added: “A very very good day for the team, however we are left feeling a little disappointed because we felt we had a real chance of getting into Q2. We had no problems on the cars at all today which meant we were able to show the true level of performance that we had seen in winter testing, and ultimately we were very close to Q2 on merit. The drivers did a great job and the whole team has worked very hard to turn everything around from yesterday, and from Melbourne.
“In Heikki's last run he made a couple of small mistakes and we could have been even closer, but, looking at the positives, we are all looking forward to the race tomorrow. Tyre degradation will be very important here – it will be an interesting Sunday for the whole grid and at last we have a car with which we can go and take the fight to the midfield.”