Jake Hughes believes Van Amersfoort Racing can fight at the front this weekend following his session-topping Free Practice effort on Friday.
The Briton finished over four-tenths clear of next best Théo Pourchaire and though he says the team ran an alternative programme to many of its rivals, its pace around the Red Bull Ring appeared genuine on first glance.
“Normally, we come out of Free Practice and we have no idea and then we go into the Sprint Races trying to learn the tyre," he explained. "So that's what we wanted to bring a little bit earlier on into the session. But that meant at the end, we put on an extra set of tyres just to just to see what the balance would be like in quali, which was a good lap, to be honest.
"The car was behaving quite well. I would expect to be P1 probably with an extra set of tyres, but that sort of gap to Théo (Pourchaire) is quite sensible for the conditions and the time of the session. We put them on the car and it felt good so very happy in that sense.
The VAR driver admitted that one of the team's main weaknesses this season has been centred around how to treat the tyres both in Qualifying and race trim.
Its Spielberg Practice programme was focused on addressing those issues. Hughes is positive that the data gathered in the 45-minute session would carry significance for the rest of the weekend.
"The way the weekend format is means that it's difficult, as a new team anyway, to learn from your mistakes because each session is always different. You go Free Practice on one compound, Qualifying on another compound, take all the wing off and cambers for race one then you have strategy in race two. So it's hard for a new team to track and predict that rather than being proactive.
"This is this is the reason why we did what we did in Free Practice now to try to understand. Hopefully we'll get there soon. What we just did in Free Practice is what enabled us to see our weak points at the start of the weekend rather than already in the middle of a race.
“It was a difficult first part of the session. We've struggled so far this year with our race pace. So for the first half of that session, or first two-thirds, we were focusing on now we did a long run, just to try and understand the tyre. It's quite a sensitive track, especially to warm up, which can cause deg. But normally if you've got the tyres warm, the deg is okay. We wanted to learn how that's behaving especially on the medium at the beginning. We've got some good data for it, it wasn't a great run in that sense but we will learn the lessons now hopefully it put us in good stead for the Sprint and Feature Races and we can make the necessary steps to then be with the boys in front."
With Qualifying coming up, Hughes believes that VAR will be closer to the front at least, although he still has concerns arising from tyre warm up.
Switching from the medium to the supersoft should make those problems a little more manageable according to Hughes, and he's hoping that by the time the cars are back out on track, conditions will have come to him and his team.
“I would expect that it should be easier. These tyres are always difficult to get warm. Even in even in Bahrain, in Barcelona, all these places it was still difficult to get tyres warm. So coming here on the medium compound, it’s still a pretty hard compound for this place. But it's same for everyone so we have to understand but for the supersoft in Qualifying, the residual temperature the tyre keeps should be better and enough to enable us to get the balance in a good window.
“On the long run, we didn't achieve that with the front tyre warm-up, but then on the medium at the end on the short run we did achieve so we're on the edge with that tyre, but hopefully on the supersoft it should come more natural. Let's see how the balance shifts. Normally it goes a bit more towards rear stability. Also that would help considering the balance I just had now so I'm quietly optimistic. It’s F2 so I'll never predict anything!"