McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh is confident his team has the capacity to "surprise a few people" at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix despite its difficult winter testing.
Whitmarsh, whose team was unable to cover as much mileage as it wanted during the winter, conceded McLaren is not arriving as favorites to win in Melbourne. But he insisted the squad cannot be written off.
"It's called testing for a reason – and testing MP4-26 beyond its limit has, in some ways, been highly instructive," said Whitmarsh. "In actual fact, we've gathered a huge amount of useful data about the car, its handling characteristics and its management of the tires. So while we've further fine-tuned the package for Melbourne, we've once again set ourselves some extremely tough targets for this opening race weekend.
"So, do I think our testing pace is representative of the pace we'll show in Australia? No. Do I think we head into the weekend as race favorites? Unfortunately, no. But do I feel that we have the capacity to surprise a few people and be competitive? Very much so."
Lewis Hamilton is also upbeat about his prospects for the weekend, the Briton confident McLaren will be able to raise its game in comparison with testing.
"We can't hide the fact that testing has been tougher than we expected: our test mileage hasn't been as high as that of our rivals, nor have we had the outright pace of the fastest cars," he said. "Still, I have a good feeling with MP4-26: I like driving our car, I think it will look after its tires quite well and I understand that we'll be making further performance steps ahead of this opening race.
"Nevertheless, we know we go to Melbourne ready for battle: some teams are extremely well prepared, both from a pace and reliability point of view, but that can sometimes count for little in the unpredictable and somewhat chaotic opening races where it's equally vital just to take points home.
"I strongly believe that, while our preparations haven't gone as smoothly as we'd have liked, I get the impression that we'll be arriving in Melbourne with everything finally meshing together – and that makes me really excited."
Teammate Jenson Button, the winner in Australia for the past two years, is not ruling out a third consecutive victory.
"Albert Park has been good to me," he noted. "I've won there for the past two seasons; it's a great circuit for racing, it always seems to create unpredictable races and, perhaps because it's habitually at the start of the season when a precise pecking order has yet to be established, we often see fast cars running out of sequence – and the excitement that that brings. With the added issue of multiple tire stops, it could be a very exciting and unpredictable race weekend.
"I'm regularly being asked if I can make it three wins in a row this year. On paper that might not look likely, but, seriously, who knows? I most definitely wouldn't rule it out."