Although Eric Boullier says success for McLaren this season would be winning, he concedes the Woking team must not set expectations “too high.”
Last season, their second back under Honda power, McLaren climbed from ninth to sixth in the Constructors’ Championship.
Their best results were two P5s.
This year the team is hoping that the new technical regulations, coupled with huge improvements from Honda, will help them close the gap on Formula 1’s front runners.
Asked to qualify what would be success for McLaren in 2017, racing director Boullier told Autosport: “To win.”
But, he added, “In reality, I want to be pragmatic and not set expectations too high.
“We were ninth [in 2015], sixth last year so hopefully we’re in the top four next year.
“We want to win as early as possible, but I’m dealing with the reality.
“I’m very happy with the Honda approach and I’m happy with the group of engineers we have in McLaren – it’s working absolutely perfectly now.
“They are working hard, but the days when you can turn up with a new aero kit on the car and gain one second are finished.
“Now it’s incremental gains all the time. And it’s also just time.”
Chief operating officer Jonathan Neale put a price to it, saying anything lower than fourth would be considered a disappointment.
“You’ve got to aim high, but right now I would be disappointed if we were fourth,” he explained.
“That’s probably the pragmatist’s view, but you don’t make progress as pragmatists.
“We want to win and we want to win sooner.
“We’ve got a race team, we’ve got drivers that are capable of winning, and between the chassis and engine, both ourselves and Honda need to bridge that gap in performance.
“The new aerodynamic platform and the great uncertainty over tyres throws an opportunity at us, and I’d like to think that we can capitalise on that. But it’s unknown.”