Formula 1: McLaren expect to enjoy 'biggest difference in grid position' in 2018

McLaren F1 driver Fernando Alonso
McLaren are confident they will be in a position to challenge on a regular basis

McLaren believe they will make the biggest step forward of all teams in Formula 1 this season.

The team have not won a race since the end of 2012 but are hopeful of a strong season after swapping their under-performing Honda engines for Renault.

McLaren executive director Zak Brown said: "We should be the team that has the biggest difference in grid position from last year to this year.

"Everyone, including ourselves, is eager to see what that looks like."

Brown said McLaren's aim for 2018 was "being competitive - that is racing at the front, qualifying at the front, getting on the podium".

After three years of being Honda's sole partner but suffering from the engine's lack of performance, McLaren dropped the Japanese company and are now one of three teams with Renault engines.

But Brown said he was not nervous about being compared with Red Bull, who won three races last year, and the French manufacturer's improving factory team.

"If we're 0.9 seconds off Red Bull, that won't look good, I agree," Brown said. "We don't want to hide. It's showtime.

"The beautiful thing about motor racing is hundreds of millions of people get to see how you do. That's part of the adrenalin.

"We are looking forward to that. This team has won the second most amount of championships and they welcome and are excited about the pressure of having the spotlight on us. We will only want to hide if we are 0.9 seconds off Red Bull."

Competing with the top teams

McLaren-Honda Formula 1 team
McLaren-Honda won four consecutive drivers' and constructors' championships from 1988-91. Their renewed partnership was not so successful

Engineering director Matt Morris said he was "excited" about the new season and testing themselves against Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

And chief technical officer (aerodynamics) Peter Prodromou, who joined McLaren from Red Bull in late 2014, said: "It has been difficult for us last three years not having someone to measure yourself up against.

"It is a very positive thing that we have two first-class teams to measure ourselves against and that is a very strong motivating factor for everyone in the workforce."

Prodromou acknowledged that Red Bull had a bigger budget than McLaren but said he hoped they could make up in efficiency what they lacked in resources.

"Perhaps we don't have the luxury to look at as many concepts as they do but we are not feeling we have any excuses or disadvantage," he said. "Our aim is very much to compete with the two other Renault runners."

Renault was regarded as the third best engine in F1 last year behind those of world champions Mercedes and their main rivals Ferrari.

But Brown said he was optimistic about the French company's performance in 2018 and not concerned about the reliability problems it had last season

"There's no alarm bells," he said. "They seem to be very confident and happy with where they are at in terms of power and reliability and specifically the reliability they feel they are on top of.

"I know there is a big debate about what is the first, second and third best engine. I think in reality they are all pretty close. So we are excited and feel they really wanted to do business with McLaren and we feel we will have total parity (of engine specification) with Red Bull and the works team."

Alonso's busy year

McLaren F1 drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne
Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso will be partnered by Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne during the 2018 season

McLaren's drivers in 2018 are two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne.

Alonso is dovetailing his F1 commitments with an almost full programme racing for Toyota in the World Endurance Championship, as part of his ambition to win the Le Mans 24 Hours and tick off another of motorsport's 'triple crown' of victories at the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500.

Brown dismissed suggestions this meant the 36-year-old's commitment to F1 was dropping.

Brown said: "He races or drives every weekend, half the time under a different name when he's karting. He just wants to be in race cars.

"I think it keeps him fresh and focused, it is what he wants to do.

"Fernando is very well prepared, knows what it takes to be successful and he wouldn't have taken on the commitment if he didn't think he could do both at the highest level. It is no other agenda than he wants to race and he wants to win."

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