Daniel Ricciardo has refused to write off McLaren's chances of closing the gap to frontrunners Red Bull and Ferrari as he believes 'big improvements' are still possible.
F1 teams are racing to an all-new set of technical regulations this year, leading to a shake-up in the order which has seen Ferrari join Red Bull in the F1 title hunt whilst Mercedes has slipped back into the midfield.
After showing session-topping pace at the first pre-season test in Barcelona, brake cooling issues then pushed the team back for the opening two races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
But after Lando Norris' podium at the recent Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola, Ricciardo has dismissed suggestions that being third-best should be the limit of McLaren's targets.
“Don’t get me wrong, at least sitting here now, it’s an optimistic ambition to be better than [just] the third-best team because the top two are certainly a good step in front," explained Ricciardo.
“But there is still a lot to learn with these cars and, naturally, not only us, but every team will bring updates, and even a team like Mercedes, with their philosophy, maybe that comes to life at some point in the season.
“So, I think there is still a lot of scope for development and improvements. Not these one-tenth, two-tenth improvements, but potentially the bigger four-, five-tenths.
“It’s still ambitious because, obviously, Red Bull and Ferrari will continue developing so the target is always going to be moving but I’m still definitely more glass half full that we can still find something a little more at the moment.”
Ferrari Red Bull 'something to aim for'
Norris is now sixth in the drivers' standings after scoring points at the last three consecutive races, including his third place at Imola.
Despite trailing Ferrari's Carlos Sainz by just three points, as the Spanish driver has lost ground after retiring in the last two races, Norris is not as convinced as his team-mate that the gap is one that can be bridged this year.
“As a team, from where we started, if we can end at least third that would be lovely," said Norris.
"But if we can start to close in a bit on the gap...the gap is too big to the guys ahead to say we’re going to be anything better than third.
“But [the sooner] we can solidify that and hopefully take some steps towards the top guys, the better. And if we can do that at least sometime this season, that is something good to aim for.”
Additional reporting by Ian Parkes