McLaren boss Eric Boullier admits the team must be competitive this season to stand any chance of keeping Fernando Alonso in 2018.
Alonso, who is in the final year of his contract, gave a scathing assessment of McLaren's engine partner Honda during the winter tests, who he called the team's "only problem" coming into the new campaign. The Spaniard has already endured two frustrating seasons with Honda since leaving Ferrari ahead of the 2015 season and another frustrating start looks likely given the manufacturer's issues in Barcelona.
Though Alonso has indicated he will not retire at the end of this season Boullier thinks it is imperative McLaren makes his decision easier by delivering a car that can challenge for big points in 2017.
"There are always a lot of stories about this," Boullier told Spanish newspaper AS. "I think Fernando is being honest with us, just as we're being honest with him. He first wanted to see how the new car was. And how the new regulations are. And I think he likes the new F1. He wants to be competitive because he has talent to show the world and to himself.
"And we need to be competitive to keep him happy. If we're competitive he'll be happy and if not he'll take his own decisions..."
Though Alonso has not won a race since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix, Boullier reckons the 35-year-old is still the undisputed best driver on the grid.
"I don't want to give you too much information, because I know a lot of teams want that information, but he's the best. Without a doubt. He's the best because he is, clearly, but over and above that, it can be shown."
While Honda's struggles were a major talking point of pre-season, Ferrari stole the remaining headlines with its impressive lap times in the second week.
Asked if Alonso made a mistake leaving Ferrari for McLaren's Honda project, Boullier replied: "No.He was happy there. He was competitive and did what he had to do. But he wanted new challenges, because Fernando is a competitive person, a born competitor.
"He was there and he gave them everything, maybe his best drive was at Ferrari, but maybe he wanted something more. He needed new challenges. He's the best driver and he needs to win, he thought he would be able to here, and that has to be our job, to do that."