Despite his team achieving a double points scoring finish in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Carlos Sainz has suggested that Toro Rosso is sixth in F1’s new pecking order.

The Spaniard has suggested that Williams and Haas currently have faster packages at their disposal.

“I think Williams showed, especially with race pace, they are one step ahead of us,” Sainz stated. “Haas, I don’t know how they would have done on the softs. On the ultrasofts they were maybe one-tenth faster than us.

“Then it is us. I do believe we are faster than Force India, but they were a tiny bit cleverer than us doing an undercut and going for that advantage. I think it is very equal between ourselves and Force India and then a bit in front of us is Haas and Williams.”

As Sainz indicates, the battle behind the top three teams is remarkably close. Pre-season testing suggested this and the theory was largely proven in Melbourne.

In qualifying, an excellent lap from Romain Grosjean saw him secure sixth for Haas, in what was the fledgling team’s best qualifying performance yet. Williams’ Felipe Massa secured seventh, ahead of Sainz and teammate Daniil Kvyat.

Considering that Massa was less than a tenth ahead of both Toro Rosso drivers who, in turn, both comfortably made it into Q3, Toro Rosso seems to be close to ‘best of the rest’ status.

As identified by the Spaniard, a pecking order assessment during the race was complicated by Haas’ double retirement and Force India’s strategy which helped Sergio Perez gain critical track position. Nevertheless, the aforementioned qualifying results provide supporting evidence for Sainz’s assertion.

His estimate that the team is currently sixth may seem disappointing for a squad aiming for fifth in the Constructors. But with the development race set to dictate a rapid evolution of the 2017 pecking order, and their deficits to both Williams and Haas seeming slim, Sainz’s team are in the fight.