Carlos Sainz believes Mercedes will likely pick up in where it left off when the season gets underway in Australia at the end of the month.
The Renault driver concluded the first week of testing in Barcelona with the sixth fastest time. Beyond his own team's prospects, Sainz sees once again the Silver Arrows outfit and its arch-rival from Maranello once again front-running the field.
"I think there are not many teams besides Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull who can do a quick time with the medium tyre," said the Spaniard on Thursday.
"So that's a positive signal for us."
He admitted however that Lewis Hamilton's fastest time yesterday was "a little scary".
"But it's still early and it's also no secret that Hamilton and Ferrari will be fighting for pole in Australia. It's no surprise," he added.
"I think it will be very difficult for teams like McLaren, Renault or even Red Bull to win because Mercedes and Ferrari are at a spectacular level."
Despite limited mileage due to the adverse weather, Renault ran its new R.S.18 without any major issues at the Circuit de Catalunya, convincing Sainz that a step forward is o the cards for the French team.
"We do not have a Mercedes or a Ferrari but I think it will be a car for me to take the step forward I've wanted," he said.
Sainz' personal record still lacks a podium finish, but the 23-year-old isn't obsessing over the milestone.
"No. People are obsessed with podiums. They seem to want me to have one more than I do!
"You can have a podium and not a good year overall, so what I want is a season of 21 good races. That's what teams like to see," he told El Mundo Deportivo.
Among the mid-field rivals Sainz will need to contend with this year is none other than his own team mate, the fast and reliable Nico Hulkenberg. Getting the measure of the German would undoubtedly get people's attention, but it's a tall order.
"It will not be easy to be at Nico's level," he admits.
"Especially in qualifying because he is a very fast driver. But I trust my skills.
"In Brazil and Abu Dhabi I was already within a tenth of him and I'm very proud of that because I had a car that I had not developed and could not have to my liking."