Sutcliffe believes Team GB should meet or exceed UK Sport's target
Sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe has told the BBC "it is vital" that Team GB reaches the target of 41 medals from the Beijing Olympics.
"That is a serious target," said Sutcliffe. "We want it to be achieved."
But BBC Sport research and statistics from the former head of the Italian Olympic Committee, Luciano Barra, suggest GB should exceed that goal.
UK Sport has demanded 10 to 12 gold medals, but Barra projects a British haul extending to 18 golds.
The minimum UK Sport expects the British team to achieve in Beijing is 35 medals, with 41 their stated ideal ambition.
"If UK Sport said 35 medals, they know that they can win 40-something," said Italian official Barra, who forecasts the Olympic medal table using the results of recent world championships in each sport.
Barra, whose projections correctly ranked Britain 10th in 2004, places GB fourth in Beijing with a tally of 48 medals.
BBC Sport's own research shows that Britain produced more Olympic gold medallists than it had world champions in 2004.
If the pattern is repeated in Beijing, Brits would be in line for twice their Athens gold medal tally - far more than the 10 to 12 gold medals demanded by UK Sport.
Sutcliffe, speaking from the GB training camp in Macau, suggested that there could be financial implications if Team GB misses its targets.
"It's vital in the sense of the investment that's gone in," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
"There's been massive investment in professional elite sport, the opportunity for athletes to concentrate on their sport and do really well.
"These are very tough contracts between UK Sport and the individuals concerned," he added.
"We'll evaluate immediately after Beijing what the success has been."
You can see great progress - at the moment the motivation of the British athletes is very high
Colin Moynihan, chairman of the British Olympic Association, agreed on the need for "real progress" but played down Team GB's medal table ambitions.
"We are confident we will move forward from 10th but it would be unwise to speculate how close we will get to fourth," he said.
Italian official Barra's 2008 estimate has the USA at the top of the medal table with 49 gold medals, ahead of China, on 38, and Russia with 32.
"I indicate 48 medals for Britain - it does not mean they will win 48, they could win less or more," Barra told BBC Sport.
"This is a way of measuring a trend, and it is a fact that since London was awarded the Games, the situation in Britain has changed."
Barra introduced his Olympic projections in 1993, having been appointed to direct Italy's Olympic Committee on the back of poor Italian performances at Seoul and Barcelona.
UK Sport announced its Beijing medal target - and a desire to reach eighth place in the medal table - in early July, but Barra believes this underestimates "great progress" in British sport since London was awarded the 2012 Games three years ago.
"The motivation of the athletes has changed," he said. "At the moment the motivation of the British athletes is very high.
"I think 35 for Britain would be good in comparison to Athens [where Britain won 30] but they made a statement of 35 because surely they know they can hit 40-something."
While British competitors did not necessarily convert world titles into gold medals in Athens, the athletics, rowing and sailing teams surpassed world championship performances.
Kelly Holmes turned her world 800m silver medal into Olympic gold in both the 800m and 1500m, while the men's 4x100m relay team took the Olympic honours despite losing Dwain Chambers, who helped them to world silver before receiving a doping ban (the silver medals were subsequently returned).
Britain's rowers posted an additional silver medal in Athens compared to their world championship outings, and GB's sailors returned home with two golds, a silver and two bronze medals.
But ahead of Beijing, Britain's swimmers will be aware that their performances collapsed in Athens.
Just one more gold medal would have elevated the British to ninth in the Athens medal table, but their world haul in the pool - a gold, three silvers and two bronze medals - translated into just two Olympic bronze awards, for David Davies and Stephen Parry.
This time, Britain's track cyclists may be the weak link in Barra's Olympic projection.
Barra cautions that the British will struggle to match their incredible seven gold medals at this year's Track Cycling World Championships, in Manchester.
"One of the reasons Britain is so high is because of the number of gold medals - in the last cycling World Championships they won seven golds, which probably will be impossible to repeat in Beijing," he said.
"Then if Britain goes down by two or three medals, Australia and Germany will top them."
BOA chief executive Simon Clegg has played down Beijing expectations and attempt to shift the focus to 2012.
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