McLaren Technical Director James Key has praised the work of Red Bull and Ferrari, saying that they've done an "excellent job" at exploiting the 2022 F1 rules.
The cars were changed this year with the intention of making it easier for the field to race each other, leading to a loss in lap time compared to previous seasons.
Both Ferrari and Red Bull have emerged with clear advantages over the rest of the field, with Max Verstappen taking five consecutive victories while Ferrari have the most poles so far this season between Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.
In an interview with McLaren, Key praised their work so far in developing cars that find "that extra bit of performance" compared to rivals.
"I suppose I am a little surprised at how two teams have been able to find that extra bit of performance compared to everyone else," he said.
"It was a tighter field at the beginning of the season, but it's beginning to stretch out now, and I have to say, Ferrari and Red Bull have done an excellent job of exploiting more.
"It shows that even within a cost cap, if you're a big team with an extensive infrastructure and a lot of knowledge and methodology built over many years, it still very much counts.
"It's a level playing field in terms of the budget we've got, but it's not in terms of where we're all coming from – that gives us an excellent reference point to aspire to."
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Key: 2022 cars getting "very close" to 2021 performance levels
The revised aerodynamics of the 2022 cars has meant lap times have dropped compared to previous years, however not as much as initially thought according to Key.
He added: "What has surprised me is that, in theory, with the same chassis performance, the 2022 cars should be two seconds slower than the 2021 cars, but that hasn't been the case."
"Cars are getting very close to '21 performance levels now, and some have already achieved it, which reflects the quality of the teams we have in this sport."
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