Brendon Hartley insists the atmosphere within Toro Rosso has shifted since new Formula 1 engine partner Honda came onboard, providing the team with a “real sense of opportunity” heading into 2018. 

Hartley ended a positive pre-season test for Toro Rosso and Honda with a 156-lap haul to add to its already-impressive mileage count at Barcelona

Toro Rosso and Honda racked up 600 laps collectively across the eight days of running - greatly contrasting the fortunes of the Japanese manufacturer’s disastrous three-year partnership with McLaren. 

The Faenza-based squad was pipped to sixth place in the 2017 constructors’ standing by then engine supplier Renault at the Abu Dhabi season-finale, but Hartley said the addition of a works deal with Honda has brought a renewed sense of optimism for the upcoming campaign. 

“It was a tough end of the year for the team,” Hartley said. “We didn’t have the performance to challenge for the points and we lost that place in the constructors to Renault. But there’s a real sense of opportunity in this relationship with Honda going into this season.

“Everyone is pumped up and positive. Toro Rosso had a really strong start to the year last year and there’s been a lot of changes behind the scenes as well to ensure that we can develop during the year. 

“The initial brief from Toro Rosso was that Melbourne might be tough but actually after these test days we’ve exceeded our own expectations and we are definitely in the fight for those points. Theres a real positive vibe that we can keep improving this car during the season. First we have to score a point in Melbourne, that’s the goal."

Hartley said Toro Rosso needs to ensure it is in the position to capitalise on any issues for the leading teams and snatch extra points during the early rounds, given how tight the midfield battle looks set to be. 

“Those last points are really hard fought for. Obviously there can be crashes and there can be reliability issues up front and sometimes and sometimes those fifth to 10th places become available or even higher. 

“Toro Rosso got a fourth place last year and we know that we have won a race in fact so you have to be opportunistic and you have to take those points when you can. That’s why that midfield battle is so tough. 

“There’s definitely those three teams that are going to be fighting for the championship but the midfield battle for those last four points scoring places is a really tough one. But we think we are in the fight.”