McLaren boss Zak Brown fears his team could slip as low as sixth place in the Formula 1 world championship due to the midfield pack being “tighter than ever” in 2020.

The Woking squad enjoyed its strongest campaign of the V6 hybrid era in 2019 as it sealed fourth place in the constructors’ championship and scored its first podium in five years, marking a vast improvement after years of competitive struggles towards the lower end of the grid.

Daniel Ricciardo, who will join McLaren from rivals Renault in 2021, said the French manufacturer is expecting the midfield battle to be exceptionally close, with its pre-season data showing the leading three midfield teams were “within a tenth” of each other.

And speaking on the latest Sky F1 Vodcast, McLaren Racing CEO Brawn admitted his side is bracing itself for an even tougher challenge this year, particularly against Racing Point. 

“I do think this year is going to be tougher,” Brawn said.

"Racing Point are clearly very quick with what appears to be last year's Mercedes, and one would think it would be quick because it won the championship last year! They're going to be very tough and I think they made the most off-season progress.

"Renault were very quick, Alfa [Romeo] were quick, AlphaTauri put in a very quick time at the end of testing and Williams showed a lot more pace than they did last year.

"So I do think this year is going to be tougher than last year and I could see us being fourth, and I could see us sliding to sixth because others have challenged.

"I think it's going to come down to reliability, drivers continuing to do a good job, team executing, because I think there's not much pace difference between the cars.”

With a tight competitive order expected, car updates could prove the difference in influencing which way the midfield fight goes. But Brawn suggested McLaren is currently more concerned about ensuring it has enough spare parts ahead of an unprecedented run of eight races in 10 weeks.

"We'll be bringing some toys as often as possible," Brawn explained.

"But because of the frequency of racing, we've probably been focused more on spares than updates - I think a lot of the teams are because we're going to be doing three races in a row on the trot.

“So we're going to make sure we have all our spares and then of course in Formula 1, to tackle the expense side of the sport we're now limited on upgrades for this year and next year so I think we'll do the best we can within the rules. But it's definitely a new environment.

"Hopefully our car's strong. We were happy with winter testing but that midfield is going to be tighter than ever."

 

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