Fernando Alonso reckons McLaren could have the best chassis on the grid by the European races.
McLaren-Honda endured a dismal 2015 and while he is expects Mercedes to continue to set the pace and knows the Woking team is unlikely to be challenging for wins, he is optimistic the squad will be more competitive.
“I would like to say yes [I can win races this year], but I think Mercedes' domination has not finished and they are very, very strong,” Alonso said. “There have been some interesting days in testing at the first two days, but with that amount of laps it means you have very clear things to learn. When they put the potential on the car as well it means they will be stronger than ever probably, more than the last two years.
“I think to win is not an easy task, but I'm very proud of the team and of what we achieved in the last couple of months. I think the target of having the best car, the best chassis is reachable and very possible by the European races and motivation is very high. But there is not a magic solution or crystal ball, but I would like to be competitive and fighting for something important."
Alonso got his first taste of the new MP4-31 on Tuesday, and while he was only ninth on the timesheets, he did 119 laps in total, a stark contrast to how McLaren-Honda got on in testing last winter.
“After probably the longest break I remember, because we started winter testing in the third week of testing, which is a little bit late compared to previous years, it's good to be back,” he continued. “It's good to complete a good number of laps, which I missed last year. We did seven laps the first day, 25 laps the second, 13 the third day and then we went to Australia. By race five or six we were still discovering little things on the car that were hurting us a lot in terms of performance and performance during the year.
“That was the first priority for the team during the winter, to make sure that we went through the problems that we had last year and put together some solutions. We did that, I think, at least on the reliability side, and I'm proud of the team and proud of the job everyone put together in this car.
“I enjoyed today but I think there is performance that we need to unlock and most of the work we did today were laps for aerodynamic study and reliability studies – brake temperatures, water temperatures – things that from a driver point of view were not very exciting because anyone can do those kinds of laps.
“I'm looking forward now to doing some set-up change and soft tyre work and different fuel [levels] to really enjoy the driving as well.”
Asked if the engine felt better, he replied: “Definitely yes. But this is an answer that I had no doubts about. We could not have any doubts because the starting point, all the power and the deficit we had last year compared to the top teams was just too high, so we did improve all the areas of the car.
“From the aerodynamics side there are parts that are quite innovative and new in our car at least – maybe the others had these ideas in the past - but for us they are new and we need a little bit of time to mature the package, and the power unit the same thing. For us last year was a lot of learning, but we learned many things and now with a completely new philosophy of power unit we still need a little bit of time to understand it and explore the potential.”