Caterham technical director Mark Smith points to hard numbers to show the team is making progress it against its rivals, even though a big upgrade package at the British Grand Prix did not deliver all that was expected.
Analysis of the Caterham qualifying times shows that the team has improved its performance compared to the fastest time in Q1 at every venue other than Malaysia and Britain this year. As evidence of its progress, in Monaco it was 1.48 percent off the quickest Q1 time this year, compared to 2.84 percent last year. The comparison in Canada were 2.14 percent against 3.96 percent, while Valencia was 1.27 percent against 3.30 percent in 2011. In Britain it did worse this year in the rain-hit qualifying with a 2.58 percent deficit, compared to 2.43 percent last year.
The team had high hopes that aerodynamic developments introduced at Silverstone could help it challenge the cars ahead of it in the pecking order, but the mixed weather conditions over the weekend meant its full potential could not be seen. Even so, Smith believes that the team has been making more progress than it has been given credit for, and he is optimistic about the second half of the campaign.
"The gap between the guys behind us and the guys in front has been quite a big gap," Smith said. "Everyone has bunched up at the front, and there is this big gap, and that makes it difficult to demonstrate that you have made progress because people see progress by position, and it hasn't translated in to that yet.
"But we are fairly confident that we are closing the gap, and that is statistically a fact. I think we have quite a lot of momentum behind us now, so we feel that Toro Rosso is right within our sights. But we cannot control how they develop – I have no idea what they are doing or what they are planning to bring to races. I think we are closing the gap and I think the things that we have in mind going through to the second half of the season will keep us going in the right direction.
"We want to get one or more points this season, and we want to race with people like Toro Rosso and maybe one or two others on merit consistently. I think then we will have established ourselves at least as part of the tail end of that group."
Smith claims the start of the campaign was in line with personal expectations, even though hopes had been high that the team could make the jump to challenge the midfield teams from the start.
"If I am honest, I don't personally think it was a great deal less than I expected," he said. "The reality of it is, if you look at the gradient of aerodynamic development that we were able to sustain throughout 2011, and project that forward to 2012, the guys ahead of us had a reasonable step advantage.
"And actually, when we tracked them throughout 2011, the majority of them were developing at a slightly higher rate than us anyway. So to overcome a step and a steeper gradient was always going to be a challenge."
Smith says that Caterham elected to take more time focusing on big developments, rather than trying to rush step changes through at the start of the campaign. The next big update is planned for Singapore, although further upgrades will come over the next races too.
"What we have done is try to bring things to the car every race if we can," he said. "We haven't waited and rolled things up in to a bigger package, and one of the issues there is that occasionally we bring fewer parts to an event than we would like to.
"But we feel that is the right thing to do. As we go to Germany and Hungary there are still further updates, and we will try and keep that going. But it is probably fair to say that we would expect to make the next bigger package in Singapore."