Fernando Alonso has warned that McLaren shouldn't be underestimated despite a below par performance from the new MP4-26 in pre-season testing.

While Alonso and Ferrari have enjoyed a largely trouble-free pre-season with plenty of mileage put on the new 150? Italia, McLaren have endured a more difficult start to life with the new car, with Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton both struggling for both pace and reliability during three tests in Spain.

It has led to talk that McLaren will go into the season on the back foot in much the same way as in 2009, when a poor start to the year meant the team was never in contention for the title, but Alonso said his former team shouldn't be discounted in the fight for honours.

"They're better than they look," the Spaniard was quoted by El Pais. "Winter testing doesn't explain anything. They say they are expecting a little more so perhaps they will be at a similar level to the best in Australia and then go on ahead.

"When we get to Australia, we'll see. McLaren are not going to be fighting for tenth place but rather for the podium."

Alonso was also quick to point out that McLaren's apparent problems with the new car were down to the vastly different driving styles of British pair Hamilton and Button.

"I think not because Formula One is dominated by aerodynamics," he said. "For example, if a wind tunnel predicts a gain of a tenth of a second, that is valid for Alonso, Massa, Hamilton, Button and all the others, regardless of the driving style of each.

"Maybe the tyres are all that matter in terms of having to adapt your way of driving."