McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh is adamant that his squad has not dropped off the pace, but is just losing out in Formula 1's tire lottery at present.
The squad appeared to be 2012's benchmark as it opened the year with two straight poles for Lewis Hamilton and a Melbourne win for Jenson Button. But it has not managed a podium finish since China, and its drivers are now down to third and fifth in the championship standings after spells in the points lead.
Whitmarsh denied that McLaren has gone into a slump, saying it was impossible for any team to stay at the front consistently in such an up-and-down year, as Monaco qualifying proved.
"It's an extraordinary season," he said. "I didn't think even at the start of Q3 that Michael [Schumacher] was going to come out with a time like that and Lotus have looked good here, I thought, and Lewis was in front of the two of them."
"We think that we've got to keep working. This year's championship is very unusual and is undeniably going to continue to be a fight to develop the car and to understand and work with these tires. If you get it right, you've got a huge performance uplift."
He suggested that even teams achieving good results remained baffled by tire performance this year.
"I think in truth, if you look back at a number of the almost surprise quick guys, if they're really honest they're not sure why they were quick at the moment they were quick," said Whitmarsh.
The McLaren chief said he was convinced there was nothing wrong with the team's current package that would prevent it winning on days when it mastered the tires better than its rivals.
"I think we've got a competitive car. We haven't always got the best out of it," said Whitmarsh. "We've got two great racing drivers, so it's going to be a fight for the whole year. There are moments of frustration and moments of elation, and that's how a World Championship should be.
"Of course we'd all like to understand everything, to be improving the car and to understand the tires every time you go out. Evidently it's not like that for us. It's not like that for anyone. That's the real challenge.
"These tires seem almost organic, non-linear, and very difficult and very complex. We don't have as good an understanding of them as we should do and as we'd like to have, but I don't think there's anyone out there at the moment - any team, any driver, any engineer - who feels they've got it nailed on the tire front."