Karun Chandhok says he is still expecting his HRT team to be far from its direct rivals at this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix.
The Indian driver gave his Spanish team its first race finish in Australia last weekend, after coming home in 14th position, four laps down. Despite being ahead of Virgin in terms of race finishes, Chandhok admits his team still has work to do before it can reach the pace of the other newcomers and is not expecting to be a match for them at Sepang.
"Not in normal circumstances. To come from four seconds to 1.8 is one step, but to go for 1.8 to zero is a very hard step to make," Chandhok told AUTOSPORT. "If we can bring that to, say, 1.1/1.2 to the best of the new teams, then...
The rookie said his team's main priority remains to be able to run reliably, but concedes it will have to begin developing its car soon, too.
"We have to get two cars to the finish, because I've finished but we've had a few issues and the car's pace wasn't great," he added. "We made safe choices also. We ran the prime tire, which is too hard. We should have gone with the option because we lost tire temperature so much, and I had to go offline to let people past, and the water, and the tires cooled off, so it was not a very good situation.
"But these are things we didn't know. We had no idea what the option tire was like on a long run. There's a lot of things within the Melbourne weekend which could have been and should have been a lot better. The first step, for this weekend and Shanghai is still to get both cars reliable in every session and to the end of the race."
He added: "In some ways, we are ahead of Virgin, because they are yet to finish a race. In terms of performance they are definitely, of course, ahead of us, but we'll chip away at it. The big question really is internal updates. I'm sure Mike Gascoyne's got some ideas for Barcelona and he'll be chucking updates as soon as we get back to Europe. And Virgin will have some updates, too.
"We'll need to do something. We'll have to join the F1 development race. Right now I think we are respectable. In the time that we've had and the miles that we've done, generally the feeling is that we are doing a respectable job given the circumstances. But to carry on doing a respectable job we are going to have to start cracking on developments."
Chandhok is also expecting a difficult race at Sepang because of the weather conditions, although he is hopeful that living in Madras will help him made things easier.
"It's going to be very tough. I don't know if I'm in a lucky position because I grew up in Madras, I still live there over the winter, and it's exactly the same as KL. The temperature here today is the same as in my house in Madras and the humidity, too. It's still going to be very hard. It could be a real test."