McLaren is taking a more aggressive approach to the design of its 2010 car than it has with recent contenders, as it eyes a return to world title glory next year.
On the back of its impressive recovery this campaign, where it went from preseason tail-ender to race winner by the middle of the year, McLaren says the lessons it took on board in 2009 are being applied to the design of its MP4-25.
"It's still too early to be able to say with any confidence how competitive we'll be, but all we can say with any certainty is that we've approached this year's car more aggressively than we perhaps have in the past," said McLaren's engineering director Paddy Lowe. "We've used the knowledge we gained from heavily developing the MP4-24 to stand us in good stead with the 25.
"We feel we're making very good progress, but, equally, we know there are some very capable teams out there too – I'd be surprised if Red Bull Racing and Ferrari don't come out with very strong packages, and I think Mercedes GP will produce another extremely quick car. You don't write anybody off in this business."
Lowe also believes that the fact the design of the 2010 McLaren was pretty much set in stone before Jenson Button's arrival was confirmed will not be a factor in favoring incumbent Lewis Hamilton.
When asked if it was possible the car design would suit Hamilton more, Lowe said: "Not at all. In fact, the opposite is true: You tend to design a racing car to be as neutral as possible. The only way a car is specifically designed for a driver is ergonomically, and, like I say, we're confident that won't be a problem for Jenson.
"You're trying to provide the driver with the broadest possible performance plateau upon which he can improvise to best suit his style. You'd be surprised, too, at how drivers' different approaches very often culminate in a similar lap time, so, in that respect, we're confident that our drivers will be a good match.
"Besides, you usually find that the competitive instinct takes over: When you make a Formula 1 car faster, it invariably works for both drivers. We only engineer for performance – not for individuality."
Lowe's stance about Button's smooth style not leading to any problems with the McLaren has been backed by managing director Jonathan Neale.
"We're lucky in that Lewis and Jenson both have fairly neutral driving styles – as does Pedro [de la Rosa, test driver] – so it's unlikely to be a problem for us next year," he said. "Without the variables of fuel-load and fuel-effect, people have suggested that tire degradation will be the next most important performance-limiting factor during a race, but we don't think that's likely to be the case.
"If you look at previous examples of a guy who's kind to his tires, and a guy who isn't, it's rare for the guy who pushes his tires to slip backward in a race. I think what you see is that a driver's speed comes from a broad range of variables – and it's invariably the characteristics of the car that create a degradation issue, rather than the drivers."
Rather than express any fears about the competition between Hamilton and Button hurting McLaren's chances next year, Neale believes the varied strengths of the two drivers could help the team be more competitive.
"I'm absolutely convinced that they'll be a fantastic and competitive partnership," he said. "The reality is that they'll both bring different skill sets to the table, and from January onward we'll be able to very rapidly bring their wealth of knowledge and experience to bear on a number of issues – particularly during preseason testing.
"In some ways, it multiplies our opportunities in a grand prix, too: there could well be tracks where Jenson's skill set is better suited to the challenge, and equally, tracks where Lewis could excel. In the past, Jenson has demonstrated considerable talent at high-speed circuits, and we're looking forward to building that into our arsenal.
"As long as we provide both drivers with equal opportunities and equal machinery – something we've always done at this team – then we hope they'll be competitive everywhere."