McLaren's Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton believe that getting ahead of Sebastian Vettel and into clear air at the start is the key to beating the championship leader in this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix and beyond.
Vettel has only been defeated once in this season's four races so far, and the McLaren duo reckon being able to make an early break and control the often-chaotic races from the front has been key to his advantage.
"There is a very long drag down into Turn 1 here, and even if they qualify half a second in front of us – if you qualify right behind them you can get them into Turn 1," said Button at Catalunya today. "Then the race is anyone's from then on – it is not as straightforward as quickest car wins.
"I think [Red Bull] has done a great job so far this year, and so has Sebastian, [but] even if they are very fast in qualifying I still think you can race them."
Hamilton added: "The problem is, when Vettel starts on pole position it's easy because he has clear air. It's pretty much done and dusted by Turn 1 because he's able to look after his tires and his engine, it's very, very straightforward. There's really not much to it.
"When you get stuck behind a car that's slower than you, the question is do you back off [and save tires]? I tend to try and get past them as quickly as possible, use the tires in the early stages to get by. But at the last race it took me forever to get past Jenson, and once I finally got past, my tires were destroyed.
"If I can get the car on the front row, those problems will pretty much disappear."
McLaren has a variety of updates this weekend, and Button hopes the step will be big enough to get closer to Red Bull.
"We have got a lot of updates here, the stuff we were supposed to put on the car in Turkey makes the car look a bit sexy, and faster obviously. It is not just to make it look good," he said. "So that's on the car, which is good. And also the updates we were always going to bring to Barcelona are here, so there is a reasonable amount of lap time.
"Tomorrow morning is going to be very busy for us, running through aero testing and in the afternoon we will have more of an understanding of what the car can do – not compared to others but the feel of the car for ourselves. Can we fight the Red Bulls? We can hope. That has to be the aim, I don't know if it is possible but that is what we are aiming for."
Hamilton agreed that McLaren would be more competitive this weekend, but suspects Red Bull will make a step of its own and could stay just out of reach.
"If they stay where they are pace-wise, in races they're a tenth or two quicker than us, but in qualifying it's four to seven tenths," he said. "If they have that gap still then we may be closing on it a little bit this weekend.
"But you have to assume that they are bringing some updates this weekend which will propel them a little bit farther forward as well. So we might have just moved forward at the same time and rate as them and the gap might be the same. We'll find out in the next day or so."
Button added that he still thinks it is too early to declare Vettel unbeatable in this year's title race, despite his three wins so far and current 34-point advantage.
"He is a long way ahead, but I had a massive gap at the start of the year [in 2009] and Sebastian and Mark [Webber] nearly beat me, so that is a different situation," said Button.
"They have resources and they are willing to use them. So I think they are obviously very difficult to beat at the moment and that will be the case for a few races, but we are not giving up. It is something you will definitely fight for until the last race."