McLaren would be disappointed if it does not finish higher than fourth in the 2017 Formula 1 constructors’ championship, says chief operating officer Jonathan Neale.
The Woking-based outfit languished in ninth place in the constructors’ championship in 2015 after a tough first year back working with Honda.
But improvements in reliability and performance for the Japanese manufacturer during the 2016 campaign, coupled with a chassis McLaren believed was one of the best on the grid, enabled the alliance to fight towards the front of the midfield.
Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button scored consistently to help the team finish sixth, 13 points clear of Toro Rosso but 62 adrift of Williams in fifth.
Neale believes McLaren is capable of improving significantly on its 2016 finishing position, given the capabilities of team and drivers Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne as well as the shake up of the technical regulations.
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“You’ve got to aim high, but right now I would be disappointed if we were fourth,” Neale told Autosport.
“That’s probably the pragmatist’s view, but you don’t make progress as pragmatists.
“We want to win and we want to win sooner.
“We’ve got a race team, we’ve got drivers that are capable of winning, and between the chassis and engine, both ourselves and Honda need to bridge that gap in performance.
“The new aerodynamic platform and the great uncertainty over tyres throws an opportunity at us, and I’d like to think that we can capitalise on that. But it’s unknown.”
When asked to quantify what success would look like for McLaren in 2017, racing director Eric Boullier told Autosport: “To win.”
But he conceded that it will take time for McLaren to return to the front of the field and start challenging for wins and the world championship again.
“In reality, I want to be pragmatic and not set expectations too high,” he said.
“We were ninth [in 2015], sixth last year so hopefully we’re in the top four next year.
“We want to win as early as possible, but I’m dealing with the reality.
“I’m very happy with the Honda approach and I’m happy with the group of engineers we have in McLaren – it’s working absolutely perfectly now.
“They are working hard, but the days when you can turn up with a new aero kit on the car and gain one second are finished.
“Now it’s incremental gains all the time. And it’s also just time.”