Lewis Hamilton thinks he and McLaren have what it takes to beat Red Bull in a straight fight in the races, but need to start getting ahead of their main title rivals on the grid.
Coming off an encouraging performance in Spain last weekend, where Hamilton pushed Sebastian Vettel all the way to the checkered flag despite being well adrift of his pace in qualifying, the Briton is upbeat about his chances for the rest of the campaign. But with Red Bull having been on pole position at every race so far this year, Hamilton thinks that getting track position at the start of the race is going to be a key factor in securing more race victories.
"If we had qualifying performance I think we could beat them in the race," said Hamilton in Monaco. "I think I showed at the last race that I had the fastest race pace throughout the whole race. So that just shows that if I can get on the front row we'd be in a good position to have a good race with them.
"It's difficult to overtake them in the race because their car is very, very good. They've got mega pit stops, which helps as well, and so, yes, qualifying is an area we have got to work on."
When asked if he believed that target could be achieved in Monaco this weekend, Hamilton said: "I'd love to say yes and I definitely feel I've got it within me to qualify on pole, but it really just depends on getting the balance right and then seeing how quick they are. They were massively quick here last year but hopefully the gap will be closer than it was in Barcelona."
Hamilton says McLaren is still working out just why Red Bull is so much quicker in qualifying than it is in races, with suspicions pointing toward its use of its blown-diffuser and the way it can use its tires on Saturday.
"These days the cars are more complex in a different way, with the blown diffuser and different race modes and those types of things," he said. "It appears that when they get to Q3 they turn something up and they get a big chunk of time. But they do also have just in general, even in the race, great stability when they are on power. Through the last corner of Barcelona, through Turn 3 they were flat-out throughout qualifying, but when we get to qualifying, we can generally only do the corner at a similar speed to what we do it in the race. That's a massive amount of time they gain.
"They were the first ones to go with the blown diffuser and it's just like when the Brawns were the first to do the double diffuser – they had the advantage for a long time. Red Bull was the first to do the blown diffuser and everyone's been playing catch-up, and we still are."
In an intriguing comment about how teams are using engine settings to help increase downforce through better use of the blown diffuser, Hamilton said: "Qualifying is probably the most exciting part of the weekend, apart from the start of the race. It is very cool, especially now. Before, we would just go to the fastest engine setting. Now, you go for the most powerful downforce setting for the engine, which is very neat. You put lots of front wing in, you suddenly have loads more grip and you can throw the car around like crazy. I can't wait to get into qualifying."