Carlos Sainz believes that McLaren still has work to do to challenge Ferrari and Red Bull, despite topping day two of Formula 1’s second pre-season test at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Wednesday.
McLaren has topped the first two days of the test, with Lando Norris quickest on Tuesday before Sainz took over and posted a 1m17.144s. Sainz, who set his time on the C4 compound during a qualifying simulation, said the pace was encouraging, but that he is focused on finding further performance that he is confident is still within the MCL34.
“There’s still big areas of improvement, definitely,” Sainz said. “The important stuff to come out of these seven or eight hour days is every time I’ve been on the track, in the car, I think it’s been progressing. The car balance has got better over the last few days, and that is allowing us to extract a bit more from it.
“So it means the team is working well; we are understanding the underlying balance issues, and correcting them little by little. But still there is a long season ahead, and big areas of improvement where we need to keep working.
“We are still not where we want to be. This is definitely the right answer. And we need to keep working hard. A 1m17m1s around Barcelona is fast, but I guess teams like Ferrari and Red Bull can go faster than that so I’m very cautious and calm.”
McLaren enjoyed a strong week during the opening test and Sainz says there has been clear progress since then, but also notes specific changes he wants to the balance that will only be possible with new parts.
“A lot of stuff (has changed),” he said. “If I tell you this wouldn’t be testing, as obviously everything we are doing is secret and I don’t want everyone to know what we are doing and why we are doing it. But pretty much everything has been kind of improved.
“There’s still underlying balance issues that we are working on that we cannot get rid of until we bring upgrades to the car. That’s what Formula 1 is all about. Decide on what you need to improve, and in the following races try and bring upgrades to get it better.”
Sainz drove for Renault in 2018 and therefore has previous experience of the last specification of power unit. Even with a change of car and regulations, he says there has been a noticeable improvement in power, but warns the relative performance compared to Mercedes, Ferrari and Honda remains unclear.
“It feels like a good step, that’s the only thing I can say as until everyone turns up the engines in Australia and we see the top speeds, it’s going to be very difficult to find out how good the step is, or if the others have done a step as big as we’ve done,” he said.
“My initial guess is, I feel it; I feel a good step on the engine and it’s going in the right direction. I still don’t know if the others have improved a lot, and if that step that I feel is going to worth being closer to our direct competitors or not. But it does feel like a good step.”