McLaren Team Principal Andrea Stella has offered a positive update regarding the squad's Formula 1 car for the upcoming year - but urged caution over the chances of catching Red Bull.
The Woking-based outfit launched an underdeveloped challenger last season and started the season competing towards the back of the field.
However, successful development saw the MCL60 rise through the pecking order during the year and score nine podium results, with McLaren scoring fourth place in the Constructors' Championship.
Seven of the top-three finishes went the way of Lando Norris while rookie Oscar Piastri scored two podiums, as well as the sprint pole and race win in Qatar.
As McLaren aims to start on a stronger foot this time around, Stella highlighted that the team is carrying over its robust development push into the new campaign.
“What I can say in terms of car development is that we could maintain the kind of development gradient that we established last year that led to the Austria upgrade and then the Singapore upgrade,” he told media including RacingNews365.
“In the background at the end of the season and then over the winter, we worked on trying to retain these gradients.
“I would say that we've been able to do so looking at the aerodynamic development, but also looking at the suspensions, the interaction with the tyres, we should have been able to make some steps forward.”
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However, Stella was coy over predicting McLaren's place in the pecking order as he stated it largely rests on the progress of rival teams over the winter break.
“Whether this is enough to retain the level of competitiveness we had last year, if it's better [or] if it worse, this will depend on what the competitors have done.
“At this stage, if I look at the resources, if I look at what we were conditioned to do, I would say that I’m encouraged by what I see, what we’ve been able to do.
“At the same time, I can see that there's some more steam in the tank.
“This is already leading to some developments that we want to bring early in the season to continue this gradient of development because we are very aware that competitors will make a large step forward.”
Stella was also hesitant over suggesting that McLaren could challenge at the front of the field as he expects World Champions Red Bull to hold a sizeable advantage once again following its dominant 2023 season.
“I would expect Red Bull to be making a large step forward considering that they haven't developed their car over the 2023 season.
“So I think chasing for victories will require a large improvement from a performance point of view.”