Sauber chief designer Matt Morris was surprised by the gap between the leading teams and the midfield during the Australian Grand Prix weekend.
The Swiss team went into the weekend with high hopes, but after Nico Hulkenberg was unable to start because of a fuel leak, Esteban Gutierrez managed only 13th place in the race.
But despite the weekend not living up to Sauber's expectations, Morris is confident that Hulkenberg would have been in the mix of the battle for points with the Force Indias.
"It definitely surprised us on Friday in Australia to see some of the cars a long way in front," Morris told AUTOSPORT.
"If you look at where the Force Indias finished, Nico would have been fighting with them, which is not too bad really and I don't think we are as far off as where we finished.
"The midfield is very tight but maybe the top guys are a little bit further away than what we initially thought.
"But Sepang will be a circuit where we will see everybody being perhaps a little closer and after that we will have a better picture."
Morris admits that Sauber still has some work to do with the C32 to close the gap to the lead pack.
But he added that the team still isn't certain of how it stacks up because of Hulkenberg's failure to start.
"I wouldn't say I'm happy with the performance of the car and it's not where we wanted to be at the start of the season," he said.
"We are definitely higher up than 13th but there are some areas that we know we need to improve on.
"Unfortunately, we didn't really get a good reference from the race. If Nico had been in it, we would know better where we are.
"We have got no major problems. We have just got to put some more performance on it and there is still some more to be had."