Ron Dennis has said he’s confident that McLaren will “spring a few surprises” as the 2016 season progresses, but acknowledges a title bid is not realistic.
McLaren endured a wretched 2015 season, finishing ninth in the Constructors' standings as their engine supplier, Honda, struggled to provide both reliability and power.
However, while he admits their power unit is still some way short of their main rivals’, Dennis says he fully expects performance hikes over the course of the season.
"[Honda's] Formula 1 power unit is still in the relatively early stages of its gestation, compared with those of Mercedes and Ferrari especially," he told the official Formula One website.
"Its developmental curve will therefore remain steep for some time yet, which will trigger a series of horsepower increments over the coming weeks and months. And our chassis is already a very good one.
"At some point during the season, we will begin to spring a few surprises. Clearly, Honda's power unit was a significant contributor to our under-performance last season."
Mercedes have dominated the sport for the last two seasons and are expected to again be the team to beat in 2016, although team chairman Niki Lauder has warned that Ferrari are “dangerously” close to matching them.
McLaren, though, despite substantial progress over the winter, will not be making it a three-way battle any time soon, insists Dennis.
"We at McLaren-Honda will not be in the hunt for outright World Championship glory in 2016, but we expect to make good progress compared with 2015," he explained.
"We have been working 24/7 in Woking all winter, weekends as well as weekdays, nights as well as days, and our colleagues at Honda have also been burning the midnight oil in Sakura.
"Expenditure of effort does not guarantee success, of course, but you may rest assured that no Formula One team has been putting in more hours over the past few months than we have."