Carlos Sainz concedes Haas has produced a small performance jump on the rest of the Formula 1 midfield pack as he looks to reel in the US team at the 2018 season opener in Australia.

After Haas caught the eye with its pace during pre-season testing, Romain Grosjean has followed it up by taking sixth place on the FP2 timesheet in Melbourne with teammate Kevin Magnussen in ninth place sandwiched by the McLaren duo of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne.

Sainz ended Friday practice one-tenth outside the top 10 as the fastest Renault driver despite “a couple of issues” during his qualifying simulation on the ultrasoft tyres.

But it was Haas who caught Sainz’s attention and predicts the youngest F1 team on the grid to be fractionally ahead of the intensely competitive midfield ranks this weekend.

“Unfortunately they [Haas] look to be that half a step in front of the rest of the midfield,” Sainz said. “Hopefully we can recover that soon. They have been quick through all of pre-season testing and we have kept an eye on them because we saw they were really, really fast straight away.

“I think 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.

“When I put the ultrasoft tyres on I had too many problems on that lap so I feel confident that tomorrow with a clean lap on the ultrasofts I can move up the order.”

Sainz is eager to lead the Renault charge up the F1 pecking order having helped guide the French manufacturer to sixth place in the world constructors’ championship last year.