Romain Grosjean says the Haas team aims to be “within a second” of the pace-setting car in Formula 1's upcoming pre-season testing in Barcelona.
The American team, which is heading into its third season in grand prix racing, was 2.5s off the pace in its debut test back in 2016 before closing the gap to 1.9s during last year's pre-season running.
Its 2017 car made Q3 on a number of occasions during the regular season and its lowest gap to pole in the final qualifying segment was recorded in Monaco, where Romain Grosjean lapped 1.171s slower than the pole-sitting Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen.
Owner Gene Haas said earlier this month that his team needed to be within 0.5s of Ferrari “to be competitive” in the near future.
Asked where he hopes Haas's new VF-18 car will end up on the timing screens in the upcoming test, Grosjean said: “Ideally, within a second of the fastest car on the track.
“Even though testing is always a little unclear, you never know what people are doing with fuel loads and tires and so on.
“We generally have a pretty good idea of where we are. I want to be happy with the car and I want to be able to know where we can improve. I want a good early set-up for Melbourne.”
Team principal Gunther Steiner stressed that the team's primary aim for Barcelona was to have a generally trouble-free test.
“Hopefully, we are reliable. I hope we don’t have a lot of issues,” he said. “That always helps and it gives you confidence for going racing.
“The expectation is always the same. We want to run as much as possible and to learn as much as possible.
“We’ve now got more people working back at the factory that can analyse data. Before, this was an area where we were perhaps a little weak.
“We’re growing. We’re always getting better, and to get better you need time. With having more people, we can do more to get prepared for the first race.”
Grosjean said the new VF-18 was “pretty much the same philosophy” as its predecessor, elaborating: “It looks like last year's in some places, but there's much more work behind the scenes. Everything's been better prepared.”
His teammate Kevin Magnussen added: “I think it looks good. There are some nice new bits on the car. My expectations are that we will improve.
“We need to not only improve on ourselves, but improve further to our competition as well. It’ll be exciting to see if we’ve done that. I have a positive feeling.”