Pedro de la Rosa has admitted that Sauber's winter testing performance was not a clear reflection of its 2010 potential, but still believes his team can get closer to the front runners during the season.
Sauber was expected to be a top-10 contender after it topped several tests and set a consistently rapid pre-season pace. Yet it has remained solidly in the midfield since the championship began.
De la Rosa reckons Sauber has simply failed to keep up with its rivals' development programs, although he conceded that the team also ran light on occasion in testing.
"The reality is racing, not testing, and that reality is where we are now," he said. "In testing we started very well, but I think the other teams have introduced new developments from February on. They have made massive steps forward, we haven't, and therefore this is where we are – simple as that.
"Possibly in testing we were also running a little bit less fuel than other people, which we didn't account for, and that has opened the gap a little bit. But there are 16 races to go – we are not where we want to be, but we are pushing like hell, and if the other guys are doing it then we can do it as well, that's how we should approach it."
However he played down the chances of a big leap forward when Sauber introduces an upgrade for the Spanish Grand Prix next month.
"We will have a new aero package for Spain, but I think everyone will, so I think that we have to get our feet on the ground and make small improvements race by race," said de la Rosa, who is more optimistic about the role that ex-Force India man James Key will play, as the transition from long-time Sauber technical boss Willy Rampf to Key continues.
"We have James Key in the team now, he started working last week, and he's a good asset," de la Rosa said. "I think everything is going very well in that area. Willy is helping James take over, and I think it's going to work."
Sauber is also one of the first teams to emulate McLaren's F-duct system. Although it has so far had little success with the device, de la Rosa expects to use it in the race for the first time in China.
"The team is improving the system race by race," he said. "It's not an easy system, it's very complex, and they're doing a good job making it work reliably, but our plan is to run it from tomorrow to Sunday now it's working, and here is one of the places it's useful."