Technical director James Key says the pace shown by the new Sauber C30 has been 'honest', with the team electing only to run on low fuel towards the end of pre-season testing.
Both Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez have shown solid pace during testing at Valencia, Jerez and Barcelona as the team seeks to avoid a repeat of the problems it faced last year – when it struggled for pace and reliability through the early stages of the year.
While he admits it is hard to tell where the team lies against its rivals based on testing results alone, Key said he was satisfied with the progress made and added that a series of upgrades are already planned for the start of the year.
“Performance is very difficult to judge because performance ultimately is relative to the competition,” he said. “I think we have been quite honest with the way we have been testing, and ran lower fuel levels only on the last two days in Barcelona, which gave us a little bit more of an idea of where the car is. It looks quite tight but it is really difficult to judge. I think we are satisfied we have made the sort of progress we wanted to make over last year's car in some specific areas.
“The good news is the fairly big update we took to the second Barcelona test for the start of the season seems to have worked the way we hoped it would. The important thing now is we continue to push and bring further updates as soon as we can. We have some big updates planned and will bring several new parts to the second race.
“We have only had one repetitive problem and other minor issues, which occasionally pop up in testing anyway, as well as certain things that can be easily dealt with. Fundamentally the car has been reliable and there hasn't been any great need for major re-designs or re-thinks in certain areas.”
With the new Pirelli tyres set to play a key role in strategy for the year ahead after the Italian manufacturer produced tyres with a higher level of degradation than the Bridgestones they replace, Key added that the importance of the work carried out by the pitcrew and engineers would increase during the season ahead.
“The tyres certainly need managing on longer runs, and I think in race conditions this is going to be crucial,” he said. “There are various ways of dealing with them and we need to see how the strategy tends to emerge in the first few races to optimise that.
“We will see more complicated and detailed strategies now. There will be more pit stops and the pit crew will be under more pressure, not just to ensure every pit stop is as quick as it can be, but also to react very quickly should the need or opportunity to change tyres comes up in a race as a much more critical part than it was before.
“For the engineers on the pit wall strategic decisions are far less predictable than before. I'm sure we will learn a lot more about how to handle it in the first few races.”