Renault driver Carlos Sainz has admitted that Haas F1 appears to have gained an advantage over their mid-field rivals heading into this weekend's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Sainz was ninth fastest in Friday's first practice session, but slipped to 11th in the afternoon's times. By comparison, Romain Grosjean finished the day in the top six for Haas.
“Unfortunately they look to be that half a step in front of the rest of the midfield,” Sainz admitted after the end of practice.
“Hopefully we can recover that soon.
"They have been quick through all of pre-season testing," he pointed out. "We have kept an eye on them because we saw they were really, really fast straight away."
However, Sainz felt that it was still too soon to have an accurate picture of teams' relative standings.
"The midfield is extremely tight so it’s difficult to say where we’ll be tomorrow," he said.
"We do need to work on getting the ultrasoft working a bit better as we didn’t manage a clean lap with it today," he continued. "My ultrasoft run could have been a lot better without a couple of issues that I had.
"My soft run pace on the first run was really good and I was seventh at that point," he explained. "When I put the ultrasoft tyres on I had too many problems on that lap
"I feel confident that tomorrow with a clean lap on the ultrasofts I can move up the order," Sainz insisted.
The weather could also play a part. After today's perfect late-summer conditions, Saturday is expected to be wet.
"Conditions were great on track, it was an ideal day for Melbourne," agreed Sainz. "But I think tomorrow we might have more of a challenge."