McLaren engineering director Paddy Lowe says beating Ferrari to third place in the constructors' championship would be a very satisfying milestone at the end of a difficult year.
Having been near the tail of the field in winter testing, McLaren mounted an impressive resurgence during the season and is now just two points behind Ferrari in the standings, having won in Hungary and Singapore.
Although the team has been fighting for championships at this stage in the past two years, Lowe said the significance of taking third place from Ferrari should not be underestimated.
"It's very important to us," said Lowe. "Obviously we want to win the championship – clearly that isn't possible this season. To come third instead of fourth, for one that at least you're on a step [of the podium] in a constructors' sense.
"But also to beat Ferrari, who are a sort of lifetime rival, is very important for the prestige and the sense of pride amongst our engineers. They've beaten us for the last two years on the constructors' side, and that is an important point for us to reach this year."
Ferrari has declared that all its development efforts are now focused on 2010, so expects its 2009 car's performance to fade, whereas McLaren has continued to bring upgrades for its MP4-24. Lowe is puzzled by Ferrari's strategy and confident that what McLaren achieves now will be beneficial in 2010.
"It has struck me from the outset as quite a strange policy to announce, because really in Formula 1, development is continuous," he said. "And, particularly without track testing, the Friday practice opportunity at races is your prime chance to look at new pieces, whether it's for that event or learning for the following year.
"We have kept bringing new parts to the circuit, we have kept developing in the factory. Developing from one year to the next is not a digital process, it's an analog one. So we migrate, and it's a question of at what rate we migrate. We're nearing the end of that migration, and it's slightly surprising for Ferrari to announce that they've shifted 100 percent so early."
Lowe thinks the battle for third is still wide open, but believes McLaren's combination of Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen has the potential to out-score Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Giancarlo Fisichella across the Brazilian and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix.
"It is achievable. We're two points behind at the moment," he said. "Having said that, we all know that with two races to go a lot can happen in any direction, and we can't rule out Toyota, who are currently fifth and only 10.5 points behind [McLaren], so are still a threat.
"We're slightly advantaged because Ferrari have been struggling a little bit on the Fisichella side of the garage, but if we can score points with both drivers, that will be the important thing to make up that difference."