Brendon Hartley believes Toro Rosso’s ‘better than expected’ pre-season testing means the Italian outfit heads to Melbourne in contention for a points finish.

Toro Rosso emerged as the surprise package in testing having switched to Honda power this year, with the Japanese supplier showing a vast improvement in reliability.

Hartley completed over 150 laps on Friday as testing came to a close, adding to an impressive haul of milage for the Faenza-based squad.

The Kiwi says there is a “positive vibe” in the camp after the team exceeded its own expectations, and while he predicts the midfield battle to be “tough” in 2018, Hartley is optimistic Toro Rosso can fight for the points-paying positions from the outset.

“The initial brief from Toro Rosso was that Melbourne might be tough but actually after these test days we’ve exceeded our own expectations and we are definitely in the fight for those points,” Hartley said.

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“There’s a real positive vibe that we can keep improving this car during the season. First we have to score a point in Melbourne, that’s the goal.

“Those last points are really hard fought for. Obviously there can be crashes and there can be reliability issues up front and sometimes and sometimes those fifth to 10th places become available or even higher.

“Toro Rosso got a fourth place last year and we know that we have won a race in fact so you have to be opportunistic and you have to take those points when you can. That’s why that midfield battle is so tough.

“There’s definitely those three teams that are going to be fighting for the championship but the midfield battle for those last four points scoring places is a really tough one. But we think we are in the fight.”