The Enstone-based squad have been consigned to competing at the back of the field in the opening three Grands Prix, with neither Romain Grosjean nor Pastor Maldonado starting from higher than 15th on the grid. The Renault-powered E22 has only made it to the chequered flag once, in Grosjean's hands in Malaysia, though his 11th place finish was achieved in part by seven retirements during the race.
Chester admits qualifying has proved troublesome for the team, but insists it is already a match for Toro Rosso and closing on the likes of Williams and McLaren over race distances.
“The E22 has tremendous potential even if we are only gradually unlocking it,” Chester said. “Although we were still not quick enough in Bahrain, we actually don’t need to find much more performance before we can be regularly in the points. We are about level with Toro Rosso for pace at the moment.
“Were it not for the safety car incident in Bahrain, Pastor would have been fighting for our first point. Our qualifying pace hasn’t been on the same level to our race pace. Our race-pace gap to the Williams and McLaren is now half a second and it was over a second in Sepang, so we’ve made a decent incremental improvement. That’s not where we want to be, but we’re on the edge of the points during what are still very early days for the E22."
Chester said the team’s relative lack of running both during the pre-season and in the recent in-season test at Bahrain has hurt Lotus and forced them to compromise development plans, but feels the setbacks also emphasise the underlying strengths of the car.
“It was all power unit issues unfortunately,” Chester said when asked why Lotus managed just 32 laps across the two days in Bahrain. “It means you have to prioritise what parts to evaluate, so we’ve had to adapt our programme for China because of this. Clearly we all want to put reliability concerns behind us so we can focus on performance and showing our true pace.
“I think we’ve got a lot more to learn about the E22 than the other teams. We learn something every time the car takes to the track, with every lap.”
Chester also revealed Lotus plan to test an evolution of the E22's ‘twin tusk’ nose concept, unique among this year’s teams, as they isolate key areas where improvements can be made.
“We’re going to attempt to get as much as we can out of FP1 and FP2 in Shanghai to test new parts,” he added. “We have a lot of aero parts we want to evaluate throughout the E22, including an evolution to our nose.
“We’ve also got some aerodynamic developments that should be interesting to evaluate for China, when we are hoping for a bit more out of the power unit as well, both reliability and pace wise. Expect to see some bodywork upgrades in China and then a bigger upgrade in Barcelona.
"Partly because of how immature the car is we haven’t managed to evaluate all the performance capabilities we want to yet. The big areas [to improve] I would say are braking, aero and the power unit. We know we are still at a very early stage with the E22 - more so than our rivals - and there are clear areas where we know the performance can be extracted.”
Lotus go into next weekend's 2014 Formula 1 UBS Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai in eighth place in the constructors' standings.