Norbert Haug has claimed that the most important factor in McLaren-Mercedes' Formula 1 fightback is self-belief, as he refused to accept that the multiple world champions are down and out in 2009 - suggesting that hard work and confidence are worth a tenth of a second as the team bids to drag itself back up the starting grid once more.

McLaren has notched up a scant 13 points thus far this season - compared to 42 at the same stage twelve months ago - with no finish better than fourth place for reigning F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton and an abject and thankless run to ninth at the chequered flag for the young British star last time out in Barcelona, around a circuit that was always going to expose the inherent weaknesses of the aerodynamically-poor MP4-24.

The blame for the dramatic slump - similar to that of fellow expected title contenders Ferrari and BMW-Sauber - has been pinned on having had to battle for glory right up until the end of the 2008 campaign, when rivals had long since begun development on their 2009 challengers, according to a significantly different set of regulations.

What's more, the Woking-based outfit has had its reputation sullied by the unsavoury Melbourne 'lies' controversy, and as such is now having to re-establish its standing both on and off the track. Haug is adamant that the team will only successfully regain winning form if it believes it can regain winning form.

"I think you have to believe that [the championship is still possible] all the time," insisted the Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President, "but it makes no sense to make predictions. You are always working in the same direction to improve the car, to improve the whole package and a lot of surprises have happened in the past in Formula 1.

"This is a very special formula, and when you have 15 cars within seven tenths of a second, lots of things can happen. You look quite silly being 15th or 16th and gaining three, four [or] five tenths is difficult enough, but it's easier than gaining 1.5 seconds. If you gain three, four [or] five tenths you are probably sixth or seventh and then if you have an aggressive strategy all of a sudden it plays into your hands.

"If you are not convinced, sometimes you probably need to have positive dreams and believe in them. I think it just makes no sense to sit down and say 'well, I have no chance anymore.' I am not sitting here and saying we are going to win the world championship - that does not give us a tenth of a second - but it does give us a tenth of a second if we are working hard, if we are believing in ourselves, if we are supporting the people.

"There is obviously criticism within the team but it is very, very important that it is positive criticism and that we are steering things in the right direction. We didn't win one race in 2006, for example, in 2007 we missed the championship by one point and in 2008 we won the championship, so things can turn around quickly. You need to have the substance, you need to believe in yourself and you need to not be arrogant - that does not help. You need to work very, very hard and this is what we are doing.

"Of course we are very much focussed on getting the job done with McLaren. We are a 40 per cent shareholder - the biggest shareholder in the group. Lots of people still think it is only a partnership, but we are in the middle of it, so it is important for us to come back to where we used to be in the last couple of years. We are working very hard, but it is a question of time.

"We (McLaren, Ferrari and BMW) all need to play catch-up a little bit, and I think lots of people have been surprised by the high level of the competitiveness of the new cars. The order is mixed. In fairness we have to admit that none of the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) cars is currently in a position to win races, and I think if that would be the case then it would probably be a different story.

"So far on the engine side and KERS side we can be pleased I would say, very pleased. I hope obviously that we will be the ones that can move quickly in that direction, but catching up is a difficult process and certainly not achievable in a couple of weeks. It is months rather than weeks, so we need to be patient."

As to the matter in-hand this weekend - the Monaco Grand Prix, the undisputed jewel in F1's glittering crown and a race in which McLaren has triumphed on an unrivalled 15 previous occasions - Haug was bullish, hopeful of a far more encouraging performance than was the case around the Circuit de Catalunya a fortnight ago, with the narrow, tortuous streets of the Principality likely to play in the favour of the MP4-24's attributes rather more, as defending race-winner Hamilton evinced in Thursday practice in setting the second-quickest time of any driver on the opening day.

"Looking now at the results I think this is not a typical race track," the German stressed. "We have always been quite strong around here [and have] won quite a few races in the last years, and I think it's always a good sign if a car goes out and it's immediately amongst the fastest in Monaco. This is basically the same on every race track, but it's even more important here because that shows that you have the right confidence. Lewis is not completely happy with the car and nor is Heikki [Kovalainen], but it was quite a good start.

"I think the team has a lot of competence in terms of the Monaco-type of race track, but I wouldn't make a prediction now. It's so tight; twelve cars have been within one second [in practice], some used the 'option', some used two sets of 'options', some had higher fuel loads, some lower fuel loads. I think we will see a different order. Ferrari will be strong, that's for sure, Brawn will be strong, Red Bull will be stronger than they have been and I think Renault, probably Toyota...it's a handful and I think Williams will be seriously strong here too, not showboating but seriously strong."