Jarno Trulli says this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix will mark his Lotus' team proper debut in Formula 1.
The team faced a race against time after gaining a late entry to compete this season, something that meant the time to design and prepare its car was very limited. However, after four races, Lotus will introduce a major upgrade package in Barcelona this weekend, hoping to gain over a full second per lap. Trulli reckons it is not when the teams will start competing properly.
"It's more realistic to say now Lotus officially enters Formula 1," Trulli told AUTOSPORT. "We hope not to be five seconds off now, but to be three, three and a half seconds off probably. It depends on the circuit conditions, and the layout, but we are aiming to close the gap more and more this year."
He also reckons the team has changed completely since the start of work to be ready to make its debut in Bahrain.
"You cannot imagine," he said of the change to the team. "At the moment the factory is starting to look like a normal Formula 1 factory, with all the departments working flat-out, with all the engineers and the designers, which we didn't have at the beginning. We really were a bit desperate, but it was mainly given by the limited time.
"I think Mike [Gascoyne] is now really organizing everything inside in order to start designing and building everything in-house. We are really looking like a very professional team now."
Trulli insisted this is a transition year for his team, and admitted he has been happy to see his feedback has been listened to in order to improve the car.
"We've got some aero parts, and we've also got some mechanical parts," he said. "We understood and we have confirmed what are the key points that we really need to attack in order to turn this car around, which probably will be hard for this season, but at least we have a clear idea and direction for next year.
"I'm very happy about this. This is a preparation season for me, a transition season where I really need to give all my knowledge and all my experience in order to prepare next year, when we'll have all the time to prepare the car and make it competitive."
The Italian suggested his team should not focus a lot more in improving this year, but rather on preparing for next season.
"Even though it will be hard, I think we can still work and gain speed, like we did here. But to turn the season around won't be so easy. I think also we don't necessarily have to do that. I think our aim is to beat the newcomers, but make sure we also start thinking soon about the next year. Because we start to have the power to prepare for next year better and better, and I don't want to miss that opportunity. This year is like this, we knew it, but I'm already thinking of where I want to be for next year."