McLaren says simply scoring points in the Australian Grand Prix will be enough for now, as it plays down any talk that it expects to be the pacesetter from the start.
Although the competitive order ahead of the first race of the season is impossible to call, McLaren has dropped a firm hint that it believes its new MP4-28 has plenty of room for improvement.
Both Jenson Button and Sergio Perez said during testing that they were struggling to get a full understanding of the car, and team principal Martin Whitmarsh said on Friday that the aim for now was to establish a good baseline for the rest of the campaign.
"It's important to remember that our MP4-28 is a new and uncompromising design that we intend to develop aggressively throughout the year," he said. "Undoubtedly, it has great potential, and we fly to Melbourne determined to show well and to score points that should establish us in good stead for both the drivers' and the constructors' world championships.
"We're still working tirelessly to bring more pace to the MP4-28's performance envelope, and I believe we'll arrive in Australia in decent shape."
Whitmarsh conceded that the last few weeks had been challenging due to a combination of rain-hit testing days and difficulties dealing with excessive tire degradation. Button has admitted that things are hard to predict right now, and that troubles in testing do not necessarily mean that a team will not be competitive over the season.
"One of the most fascinating things about Formula 1 is the way it resets itself each and every winter," he said. "I've seen every side of that: You can have a terrible winter of testing, then turn up at the first race and be competitive; equally, you can look impressive in winter testing and be nowhere in Melbourne.
"If you're lucky, it all comes together in the tests and you hit the ground running at the first race. That's always the goal. This year, I don't think any team really knows or understands the competitive order. But that's part of the game."
ANALYSIS: Facing the prospect of a tough start
F1 teams are always eager at this time of the year to play down expectations ahead of the first race, just in case they fall flat on their face in Australia by not delivering on promises.
This year, the uncertainty about the speed of each team that has engulfed F1 during winter testing has amplified that feeling. No one knows for sure where anyone stands right now.
But the messages coming out of McLaren point to a team that is bracing itself for a tough start to the campaign. When a team boss or driver says their car has great "potential," it usually means it is not very fast right now, but it can be in the future.
Earlier this week Jenson Button talked of testing going well "in terms of mileage and reliability" but said there was more needed on the speed front.
A difficult start in Melbourne does not mean the end of a championship though, such is the way of the modern F1 development race. This time last year, Fernando Alonso knew he faced an uphill task to just score points in Melbourne. And while Button won in Australia, it was his downbeat Ferrari rival who eventually took the title fight all the way to the final round.