McLaren team boss Zak Brown fears his outfit could easily slide down to sixth in the championship standings in what is predicted to be one of the tightest midfield battles for some time.
With stable regulations carried over from previous seasons the field will naturally close up, and pre-season testing somewhat proved that with little to separate those behind the ‘top three’ – Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari.
Brown is expecting a “tighter than ever” midfield which he fears could easily see McLaren slip from its ’19 finishing position as ‘best of the rest’ in fourth, down to sixth or lower, with Racing Point and Renault showing particularly strong form in Barcelona at the start of the year.
“I do think this year is going to be tougher,” he told Sky Sports F1. “Racing Point are clearly very quick with what appears to be last year’s Mercedes, and one would think it would be quick because it won the championship last year! They’re going to be very tough and I think they made the most off-season progress.
“Renault were very quick, Alfa [Romeo] were quick, AlphaTauri put in a very quick time at the end of testing and Williams showed a lot more pace than they did last year.
“So I do think this year is going to be tougher than last year and I could see us being fourth, and I could see us sliding to sixth because others have challenged.”
Brown believes it will come down to whichever team does a perfect job each weekend as each and every point is going to be vital in the fight for fourth.
“Hopefully our car’s strong. We were happy with winter testing but that midfield is going to be tighter than ever.
“I think it’s going to come down to reliability, drivers continuing to do a good job, team executing, because I think there’s not much pace difference between the cars.”
Expected pacesetter Mercedes and rival Ferrari have already confirmed plans to bring big updates to the first race of the season, and whilst McLaren have updates in the pipeline, Brown admitted they’ve focussed their attention on building up a library of spares for is expected to be one of the most condensed and busy calendars on record.
“We’ll be bringing some toys as often as possible,” he added. “But because of the frequency of racing, we’ve probably been focused more on spares than updates – I think a lot of the teams are because we’re going to be doing three races in a row on the trot.”