Lando Norris believes McLaren can become Red Bull's closest challenger in F1 but warned it will be "impossible" to continue its current meteoric rise.
The Woking-based outfit has been in stunning form as of late and Norris, with rookie teammate Oscar Piastri, has secured two double-podium finishes in a row in Japan and Qatar.
Australian Piastri won the Sprint at the Lusail International Circuit to underline the performance of the MCL60 and the steps the team has taken since a difficult start to the season, leading to suggestions from rivals that McLaren is now the second-best team in the sport.
Asked when speaking exclusively to RacingNews365.com whether McLaren could challenge Red Bull next season, Norris said: "Yes, I think if we continue at this rate of development - which... it's impossible to continue at this rate, it's always going to slow down.
"Within quite a short time, it's been half a year, to make as many improvements as we have in terms of lap time. We have probably improved the car up to a second in just pure pace, maybe a little bit more at some circuits and a little bit less at other circuits.
"But that's a huge jump, especially through the middle of a season where there are more rules than ever to stop you from developing.
"That's why I think it's such a good achievement, what we have managed to achieve from Bahrain to now, or even from Bahrain to Austria, Silverstone and Budapest.
"So then to kind of know we are going into this winter in a stronger place than ever and it gives me more hope and be confident in saying yes, I think we can come out next year with a stronger car."
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McLaren's early season form led to speculation over Norris' future and whether he could afford to remain patient with the team that gave him his F1 break.
A double retirement in Bahrain was followed up with further bad luck in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix but as performances continued to fall short of par, Norris suggested that the MCL60 was only the 'seventh fastest' car after the Monaco Grand Prix.
But upgrades applied first to Norris' car in Austria and then to Piastri's machinery in Silverstone following a revamp of the technical team saw McLaren join Mercedes and Ferrari in the race for podiums - leaping past a declining Aston Martin.
With the Silverstone-based outfit now hanging on to a thin 11-point lead with five races to go despite Fernando Alonso's lightning-fast start to the campaign, McLaren's progression can be clearly seen.
But Norris has insisted: "The only thing we have failed to do over the last three years is start the season with a strong car and I'd say one of the strongest cars I have started the season with was either 2019 in my first few races in F1, or maybe 2021.
"Those were our two best starts to the year. 2022 was a terrible start to the season and this year, a terrible start.
"We played catch up, we get that, but we need to start off strong and then develop and that's just not what we have been able to do.
"So that's our first big challenge for next year and I think we have already started to do a lot more work than we have in previous years in order to try and achieve that.
"But I believe so, if we can continue close to the level of development we are doing, I have the faith that in '24 at some point, maybe it is beginning, middle, end, we can be, at times, favourites - maybe not consistently - but we can be at times favourites heading into a weekend."
Mercedes are easily the favourites to be the second-quickest team
"But we still have work to do. There are circuits that were great for us but there are circuits we have struggled a lot at and where Red Bull are on another level for everyone.
"Our task at the minute is not just to be good at some circuits, but to be good at all, and I think that's where you have like a Mercedes, which maybe haven't always looked as special but has easily been the most consistent, apart from Red Bull.
"They've never been slower that the third quickest car, even now. In every race they have been quicker than us, maybe Silverstone was the only track we have been quicker.
"Mercedes, for me, are easily the favourites to be the second-quickest team, but we are closing in on them."