Jenson Button is confident that the McLaren-Honda partnership will use what it can achieve in the few weeks between this season's Abu Dhabi finale and the start of testing next spring to move up the F1 pecking order in 2016.
The Briton, along with team-mate Fernando Alonso, has endured a trying campaign as Honda's return to the top flight has not been accompanied by the sort of results it enjoyed during its last fling with McLaren but, having re-signed for 2016, remains optimistic that both parties can turn things around.
“We keep saying it, but it is still a very young partnership,” the 2009 world champion pointed out, “We have learned so much this year – with the power unit, with the idea of the aerodynamics of the car as it's very different to a 'normal' McLaren – [but] obviously we need to make a big step next year. It's going to be a long hard winter but an exciting one as well.
“Everyone knows McLaren and what they've achieved, and it is still the same team so, in terms of what we do on a race weekend, we're doing a very good job, getting the best out of what we have, maximising the potential of what we have at the moment. But, being a lot younger in our project than the others, it does take time [to improve] and, during the season, it is difficult to make big changes. This winter is a very important one for us to make those big changes and come out a lot stronger next year.”
While he remains positive that McLaren and Honda will move up from their current ninth place in the standings, Button stops short of predicting wins for 2016, even if the morale at Woking deserves some reward.
“We're not going to be where we are,” he stressed, “We want to be fighting at the front - whether we can win races or not, that is another question, but I think we can at least fight at the front next year.
“There's a lot of hard work going on and, even in hard times like now, there is a still a lot of confidence in the team. They're working flat-out to improve the car and the power unit, so there's a good atmosphere – which I think a lot of people are surprised about.”
Before 2016, however, there is the small matter of two races to complete the current season, starting at Interlagos – where Button clinched his world title six years ago – this weekend.
“It's obviously not going to be an easy weekend, but it'll definitely be better than the last one!” the Briton concluded, reflecting on a miserable Mexican outing, “We'll get the maximum out of what we have, which is what we always do.”