Lotus team boss Eric Boullier says his squad is now confident it can close in on pacesetters Red Bull and McLaren during the 2012 season after its impressive performances in testing.
After a tough 2011 – its last year under the Renault banner – the renamed squad has appeared to make a massive step forward in winter testing, setting the pace on three out of four days at Catalunya last week with Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean.
Although Red Bull and McLaren remain favorites heading for Melbourne, when asked if he felt those teams were out of reach, Boullier said: "If I think this, I should give up now.
"What is very encouraging is that even if we believe strongly that they are ahead of us, then the gap last year to this year has been reduced so it shows we can catch up. We obviously need to push more on this but we can close the gap, and it is up to us to do better this year and do even better for next year."
Boullier said that even allowing for the fact that testing times are notoriously deceptive, there was enough evidence that the Lotus E20 was a good car, despite a chassis problem meaning it missed the middle week of running.
"First of all this is testing, so even if everybody is watching the lap times of everybody, we have a long range of processes to go through and to test first of all reliability and temperature range, and different logging," said Boullier. "So it is only testing – qualifying will be in Melbourne and not before.
"The good thing is that the car was good from day one out of the box. The car itself has been very well designed and it is clearly a step up over the past years. That has allowed us to put a lot of miles behind us at Jerez, and then we had a little bit of a setback [at the second test], missing the four days, and [the final test] I think was not bad.
"We had to make some compromises on the testing because we were missing four days, so we had to combine eight days with four days, but all in all it was not bad."
Boullier added that Raikkonen and Grosjean were already feeling at one with the E20.
"Clearly the basis is very good," said the team boss. "The car is not easy, but the drivers like it – it makes them comfortable and confident in the car.
"The car is reacting well, matching the simulation figures. So far, it is a good basis to start with."