Fernando Alonso believes the next two months of car development will determine whether or not McLaren can legitimately fight for podiums and pole positions in 2018.
After finishing fifth at the opening race of the season in Melbourne, Alonso said McLaren can focus on cutting the gap to fellow Renault customer Red Bull in coming races. Although it is clear McLaren is in much better competitive shape with its new engine partner the Spaniard is realistic about the size of the gap it still needs to cut.
"I think it's still quite a reasonable gap to close with the leaders, but I think it's up to us now," he said. "It's up to the team to deliver the performance in the next weeks, in the next four, five, six grands prix.
"If we are able to bring the performance to the track and close that gap and be within a reasonable distance with the pole position and the podium finishers and things like that, then it's up to us to deliver the result that we can."
Alonso has challenged his team to continue pushing to move up the grid.
"I'd say the next two months are crucial for our hopes in this year's championship. Hopefully we can keep improving the car, keep putting on more performance. If it's not a world championship fight, we will have hopefully some podium positions through the year, or can be some regular top six, top five positions, not only in Australia P5 because the Virtual Safety Car and the two Haas retirements.
"Maybe P5 could become a normality. That's something we need to discover and find out. As I said before, it's probably the first time in the last three years it's up to us now to deliver the results. We will try to do our best."
At the end of Thursday's press conference ahead of this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix, Alonso was asked if he genuinely believed regular podiums are a reasonable objective this year. The two-time world champion responded with a reminder of his career history.
"Yes. We were two places from that podium already in Australia. They were very close the last 10 laps, Ricciardo and Kimi fighting together. Anything can happen in a race.
"I won two races in 2008 with that ING Renault. I was on the podium in 2009 with the introduction of KERS and that car that I think we were ninth in the world championship, and I was on the podium. Anything can happen in F1. If you are close to that position, sooner or later that opportunity will come, and we will be there to take it. I think it's very possible this year."