Carlos Sainz has said that he thinks Mercedes and Ferrari will continue to battle at the front in 2018.
Some are predicting that Renault will make a big step forwards this year, and Sainz agrees that the new black and yellow car is working well in Barcelona.
“I think there are not many teams besides Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull who can do a quick time with the medium tyre,” he said at the freezing Barcelona test.
“So that’s a positive signal for us.”
However, he admitted that Lewis Hamilton’s fastest time on Thursday was “a little scary”.
“But it’s still early and it’s also no secret that Hamilton and Ferrari will be fighting for pole in Australia. It’s no surprise,” the Spaniard added.
“I think it will be very difficult for teams like McLaren, Renault or even Red Bull to win because Mercedes and Ferrari are at a spectacular level.”
As for his Renault in particular, Sainz continued: “We do not have a Mercedes or a Ferrari but I think it will be a car for me to take the step forward I’ve wanted.”
Yet he said he is not even setting the goal of a podium.
“No. People are obsessed with podiums,” he said. “They seem to want me to have one more than I do.
“You can have a podium and not a good year overall, so what I want is a season of 21 good races.
“That’s what teams like to see.”
Another positive sign would be for Sainz to beat his highly-rated teammate Nico Hulkenberg, although he admitted: “It will not be easy to be at Nico’s level.
“Especially in qualifying because he is a very fast driver. But I trust my skills.
“In Brazil and Abu Dhabi I was already within a tenth of him and I’m very proud of that because I had a car that I had not developed and could not have to my liking.”
Sainz’s reward could be the move to Red Bull for 2019, as he is only ‘on loan’ to Renault this year.
“That is not my dream,” he insisted. “My only dream is to do a good year in 2018 and that will lead me to even better things within this team or outside of it.
“What Renault deserves right now is my maximum commitment to this project rather than thinking about Red Bull or other things.”
The new season gets underway with the Australian Grand Prix on March 25.