By Sanjeev PalarFollow @@sanjeevpalar
I was at the race in Bahrain and had a good, long talk with Eric Boullier.
Of course, the race had lots of interesting facets - Sebastian Vettel looked unstoppable, Ferrari had a miserable day, Mercedes and McLaren realised they need to fine-tune their package - but it was the men from Enstone who will have left the Gulf with an uncertain mindset.
The Lotus cars are strong and the race was all about tyre management, which seems to be their forte. Normally, the tyres are finished after an extended run with thermal degradation adding to the pressure but the Lotus cars still survived, enabling Kimi Raikkonen to pull out a two-stop strategy once more.
And Boullier said that this could mean that 2013 could be the year when they finally make a bid for the title.
The only problem is that they need to find the pace in qualifying.
It's common knowledge that they don't have the budget to compete as aggressively on the developmental front as the bigger teams. But this race would have given their investors plenty to think about as both of his drivers were only beaten by Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel.
Had Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean qualified better than eighth and eleventh respectively, they would have been favourites to win the race.
Currently, they have the upper edge on the Ferrari team, inconsistently impressive as the Italian marque have been this season. In the two weeks ahead of Barcelona, despite the race being Fernando Alonso's home turf, Lotus could put in the long hours in order to have a better Saturday performance and, consequently, a better race showing.
They're second in both the championships and the momentum is clearly on their side.
Boullier also said that he's confident Lotus have the talent and the people to challenge Red Bull and they will look at all angles in order to help upgrade their car so that it becomes as fast as it needs to be in qualifying.
And you could see on Sunday how their strategy was arguably the best among all the teams. They knew that Raikkonen was well-placed to seal the runner-up position and, predicting that Paul di Resta's car would not last the distance, they instructed Grosjean to pit ahead of the Scotsman.
Raikkonen might have complained about his early pit-stop - "Why did we stop so early?" - but the engineers rightly calculated that the Finn would have a clear field ahead by doing so as Vettel's competitors subsequently made their tyre changes ahead of the frontrunner, only to find that they did not have the pace to match the German.
With only the backmarkers to take care of, Raikkonen promptly demonstrated his driving skill and shaved off the 30 seconds the rest wasted in carrying out an extra pit-stop and the Lotus drivers therefore secured the most points on the day.
Moving on to Alonso, he was just furious after the race and was only open to the Spanish media. Without DRS, he did well to finish eighth but it means that he now needs a win to haul himself back into contention.
Never has Felipe Massa had two tyre failures in one race so it was far worse for the Brazilian.
Overall, a day Ferrari will want to forget.
But the man who should have been most disappointed was Nico Rosberg. His tyres just didn't work for him as even after four pit-stops, he had issues trying to nurse the rubber all the way to the finish line. Afterwards, he even remarked that he was astonished three pit-stops weren't enough on the afternoon.
What made it even worse was the fact that he had a solid opening as he admirably held off the likes of Vettel and Alonso for the first few laps.
At least the Silver Arrows team saw Lewis Hamilton put it a late surge to secure fifth place and the Briton was really happy with the ten points collected. And if he could make his tyres work, the engineers will be hopeful of grabbing some useful data in order to find out why Rosberg couldn't build on his pole.
Having said all that, it's still too early to declare that it will be a Lotus-Red Bull fight for the title. Even McLaren cannot be ruled out at this early stage, despite collecting just 23 points between their two drivers.
There may be no mid-season testing but now that the races shift to Europe, the standings after the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona will truly demonstrate the disparity among the teams. They have all been hard-wired into considering these coming two weeks as being vital for implementing the necessary upgrades for the seven races (with one taking place in Canada in the middle) on the continent.
A team that does not perform in the Barcelona race could change track and start focusing on the 2014 season, especially as the technical regulations are expected to change quite drastically then.
After Barcelona, the team that has invested the money and produces the right results will be the one that matters. That's why McLaren can still have a slender hope of being a force in the season.
If they manage to bring upgrades that have an impact on the car (as they did last year), they'll be able to play catch up and spring a surprise.
And that's why Boullier will probably be working overtime in the coming two weeks.
His cars have shown that they can go the extra mile on the track but now his men need to do the same off it as well.