Zak Brown is refusing to set any definitive targets for McLaren but expects they will be “challenging towards the front” this season.
Having bid farewell to Honda after a disasterous three year relationship, McLaren will be powered by Renault in 2018.
The Renault engine is a proven race winner with Red Bull triumphant in three grands prix last season.
As such Brown says he believes McLaren will return to the sharp end of the grid when the 2018 season begins in Australia in March.
“We are one of the big teams, we need to get back to the front,” he told Sky Sports.
“We haven’t, and certainly won’t publicly, set any expectations because that’s dangerous.
“We are coming off ninth in the championship so I can promise you we’ll be doing better than that but that’s the ball park we need to be.
“We expect to be challenging towards the front.”
He added: “We think we’ll have a competitive race car so I think you’re going to see Fernando [Alonso] and Stoffel [Vandoorne] racing each other hard – which will be exciting as long as they don’t take each other off! – and hopefully we’re fighting for podiums. I hope that’s the top step.”
Brown, though, acknowledges that McLaren face a tough task breaking into the top three in the standings.
“Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull are awesome teams that have significant budgets which hopefully will get addressed in the new deal [from 2021], but that’s still a few years away,” explained the CEO.
“So we’re going to chase them hard and hope that we’re spraying some champagne.”