Carlos Sainz Jr. says he is remaining “very cautious” about McLaren’s standing in the Formula 1 pecking order despite setting the fastest time of pre-season so far in Wednesday’s test running.

Sainz set a best lap of 1m17.144s to finish almost seven-tenths of a second clear of the field on Wednesday, as well as beating the previous best lap set by Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg on the final day of last week’s test running.

Sainz said the lap was “a good try” in relation to the out and our qualifying pace of the McLaren MCL34 car, but stressed there was plenty of room for improvement on the car in the final two days of pre-season running.

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“There’s still big areas for improvement, definitely,” said Sainz.

“The important stuff to come out of these seven or eight hour days is every time I’ve been on the track, on 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 17.1 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.”

Sainz will hand the reins of the McLaren back over to teammate Lando Norris on Thursday before closing out pre-season testing on Friday.

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