MELBOURNE, Australia — Three days out from the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Sergio Perez insists Force India is “not as bad as we look” despite an underwhelming winter testing in Barcelona.

Perez and teammate Esteban Ocon helped Force India to fourth in the 2017 constructors’ championship, but a lackluster eight days of testing suggested they could fall pack into Formula One’s hotly contested midfield pack.

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However, Perez revealed those within the team are confident of another strong season, beginning this weekend at Albert Park where the first of their upgrade packages will be delievered.

“We are really optimistic as we know it’s a very long year,” Perez said on Thursday. “We are not as bad as we look, especially with the upgrade package coming.

“The issues that we experienced in Barcelona I think are very irrelevant to what we are going to have this year. We are probably better than we expected to start the season. I am optimistic.”

Despite the belief Force India is not as far off the pace as testing suggested, Perez says the team faces an enormous challenge in 2018 to remain the sport’s fourth-best team.

McLaren are likely to make significant gains after switching from Honda to Renault power while Renault also appear to be in a much stronger position than last year.

“We are facing our biggest challenge yet in the five years I’ve been with the team,” Perez said. “It’s going to be a really tough battle in the midfield with some great teams out there.

“The target for us this weekend is to start the year on a high. It’s important especially these first couple of races where everyone is figuring out many things, it’s good to be out there and push for the strong result.”

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