Carlos Sainz Jr surprisingly sees Toro Rosso and Haas as Renault's P4 rivals
With paddock talk already confirming Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull as the three pacesetters for the 2018 Formula 1 season, all talk has been on who will lead the charge from the midfield, a position occupied for the last two years by Force India.
And with Vijay Mallya's squad’s current testing pace anything but competitive, all eyes have turned to Reggie and their star line-up of Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. who have undertaken increased off-season investment throughout the staffing structure at Enstone. The smart money is now on the French manufacturer to break out of the pack and lead the midfield fight towards fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship which Sainz was eager to confirm during his Thursday evening media session.
"Mercedes looks very quick out there," Sainz said. "That's nothing to hide from there – it looked quicker and it seems like they put the car on track a bit like last year and like always really, but that's not a secret. We know that Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari are going to be ahead and fighting for the win in Australia. That is not our concern; our concern is to be closer to them and cutting that gap little by little through the year.”
With that all in mind, it was surprising to hear from the Spaniard that it was not Force India who may be standing in the French squad’s way to the coveted fourth spot.
"Of course [fourth] can be possible, it's going to be difficult. The midfield as always has very high competition. We already see people like Haas and Toro Rosso doing very decent lap times, so it is going to be particularly tough but we will try."
Clearly Bob Bell and his technical team have been burning the midnight oil as Renault has been among the only teams brining constant upgrades to the final pre-season test season with a new front wing on the agenda today. While this added even more data to the massive amount already collected by the team over the past two weeks, Sainz was optimistic that the new parts would the momentum going.
"You always learn new things in testing and today we also had some new parts coming, which we have to analyse and take good care of. Little by little as the days go by we learn and we keep becoming stronger each day. Another full run plan completed, which is good news for us.
"We still need to analyse [progress]. I felt different things and some differences there but we still need to see how much we progress, because it's difficult to say at the moment. The aero department is working on it and analyzing. They will come up with a number – but I think we will keep that number to ourselves."