Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button have admitted they are unlikely to be able to challenge Red Bull and Ferrari in qualifying for the German Grand Prix.
While a resetting of the diffuser rules and the arrival of new updates for the Nurburgring had led to increased optimism ahead of the weekend, McLaren finished more than one second off the pace in both practice sessions on Friday.
Hamilton admitted the team was lacking downforce, and effectively ruled himself out of the qualifying battle, although he remains slightly more optimistic about his race chances.
"We can't challenge for pole tomorrow, at least that's what it seems from today," Hamilton conceded. "In pure pace in qualifying, we don't have the pace to run with them (Red Bull or Ferrari) – over a single lap they definitely have about a second on us.
"We don't know what fuel load everyone is on, so we might be pleasantly surprised tomorrow to find we're heavier than others, although historically that's not the case. It's the race where we're able to do the most damage and close the gap, for some reason. We might have the chance to challenge at least one of the Ferraris and Red Bulls. Obviously, they are still massively quick, but anything can happen."
Despite that assessment, neither of the McLaren drivers were too downbeat, with Button saying the team still had to aim for the win even after describing his day – which saw him run without KERS in an afternoon in which he finished 11th – as "one to forget."
"It was a pretty tricky day to set up the car," Button explained. "Over one lap I think we're getting there with the balance, but we're a lot further away than we thought.
"This morning I couldn't get a balance and struggled massively, and then all afternoon I haven't had KERS, so that wasn't perfect. I'm reasonably happy we got a good balance in the end, but we didn't get a lot of running on the soft (tires) which is a pity.
"We're not as quick as the Red Bulls over one lap, but I don't think we ever dreamed we would be. It's whether we can race the top cars – we've got to still aim for that, but it's going to be a tough one."
Asked what both he and Button could do about McLaren's current struggles, Hamilton said: "I just have to have faith in my team, in the developments coming through, that eventually we'll close the gap. We've said that we're one of the best teams in turning things around, and we still believe that. Ferrari has passed us but it doesn't mean that it's over yet."