Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Carlos Sainz Jr believes the rest of the field have made a big leap forward in performance over the winter, and that could see the Faenza based squad struggle to make it into the top ten at the first race of the season in Australia.
Reliability issues plagued the Faenza based squad during pre-season testing, which saw them complete less laps than every other team bar the similarly troubled McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team.
They did however; enjoy a positive end to proceedings by finishing third fastest on the final day of running, as well as finally being able to complete a full run plan. The Spaniard’s time of 1:19.837, set on the ultra-soft tyre, was the seventh fastest time of the winter test overall, which was a big boost to the Faenza based squad’s confidence ahead of the new season.
If testing is to be trusted, 2017 will be a much more competitive affair, with the usual three teams vying for the top spot in Melbourne, but also a close run battle in the midfield too, which the Spaniard feels will make life tricky for Toro Rosso at the first few races at least.
“I honestly think that the others have done also massive steps — Force India, Haas, Renault in particular, compared to last year, and Williams is flying.
“So it is going to be a very, very tight fight for P5 in the championship, or to be the fifth-fastest car in Melbourne — so to get into Q3 will be extremely difficult.”
Sainz Jr picked out Williams Martini Racing as a particular worry for the Dietrich Mateschitz owned squad, with Felipe Massa posting the fifth fastest time set during pre-season testing and looking comfortable with it; the Spaniard fears they could be just a step too far ahead for them.
“I don’t know, it’s probably a bit too early to know. But they are definitely very strong and they will be very difficult to beat.”
Toro Rosso are confident they can resolve the reliability issues they experienced in Spain ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, leaving them on track to achieve their goal of finishing higher up the order in 2017.