Jolyon Palmer believes that McLaren may get ahead in the increasingly close midfield battle at the Spanish Grand Prix.
The team performed strongly at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya during pre-season testing in February, but experienced a change in fortunes at the opening race of the campaign in Bahrain, where they struggled towards the back of the grid.
Since then, the Woking-based squad have made improvements, and currently sit in fourth place in the Constructors' Championship.
Palmer tips Mercedes to stay ahead of midfield
When asked if Mercedes will remain at the front of the midfield fight in Barcelona, Palmer explained that he views the Silver Arrows as being slightly ahead of the rest.
"I think McLaren could be strong," the former driver told the F1 Nation podcast.
"It's weird to say that Mercedes are in the midfield fight still, isn't it? Are they in the midfield fight, really?
"It's a strange one, because they're in their sort of middle ground of being probably a little bit too strong for the absolute midfielders still, particularly in race pace, but they're nowhere near the top guys.
"I still think Mercedes, when they get it right, particularly if they have a clean Grand Prix, should be clear of the [mid]field."
Barcelona offers a "good chance" for McLaren
However, in the battle behind Mercedes, Palmer is tipping McLaren as the ones to watch at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
"McLaren are the team that, I think this weekend in Barcelona particularly, can come on strong," he explained.
"I was out there for testing, and they looked really good, and then I couldn't quite believe how bad they were in Bahrain. All my predictions just went straight out the window, when they got no points and were just trailing around at the back.
"They obviously have a decent enough car though, and I think they can come back. It's not a big braking track for them, which was a lot of their issues early on. And Lando [Norris], I still think is driving so well.
"It's going to be a good chance for them."
Viewed by others:
Who else can factor in the battle?
Palmer acknowledges, though, that the midfield fight is currently so close that other names could also make their mark in Barcelona.
"There are quite a few teams in the midfield that have proven already, even in just five races, that they can be best of the rest," the ex-Renault driver said.
"Valtteri [Bottas], last time out in Miami, was brilliant for Alfa Romeo."
On the idea that Bottas thinks he can score a podium, Palmer added: "He can. When you look at who's won races [in] the last few years, [such as] Esteban Ocon and Alpine.
"If we were doing this podcast last year, and we were talking about is Esteban Ocon going to win the Hungarian Grand Prix, we'd [have said] no way.
"Sometimes in races, things come up, and then you've got to be the plucky midfielder on the day that takes charge of things.
"A podium certainly is on the cards for Valtteri, and the Alpine guys again this year [are] looking quite good."
F1 Podcast: Is F1 at risk of alienating fans with its quest for a show?
RacingNews365.com F1 journalists Dieter Rencken, Mike Seymour and Michael Butterworth look back over the first-ever Miami Grand Prix, in which Max Verstappen once again beat Charles Leclerc – but was the racing less important than the show?