Lewis Hamilton said Thursday that McLaren were not far behind the rampaging Red Bull team despite reigning champion Sebastian Vettel storming to victory in the opening two races of the season.
"We're knocking on their doors, but from track to track it's going to change quite a bit," the 26-year-old Briton, a former world champion, warned ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix this weekend in Shanghai.
"In the last race, it looked like they stepped back - I don't think we improved or were closer.
"But I definitely feel we're right there in the chase. They do have a slight advantage, but I'm hoping we can find some performance this weekend so we can compete for the pole position."
It was an encouraging showing by McLaren at the Malaysian Grand Prix last weekend.
Hamilton qualified a close second behind Vettel at Sepang, but was unable to challenge the reigning world champion in the opening laps after being passed by a fast-starting Nick Heidfeld of Renault into the first corner.
Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, finished a lowly eighth, but his McLaren teammate Jenson Button came in second as Vettel eventually cruised to his second consecutive victory to start the season.
After the heat and humidity of Malaysia, Hamilton believes the cooler conditions in Shanghai could benefit Red Bull.
"Here, it's a bit cooler so they should be on top form this weekend, but we've got some upgrades that we're trying to get to work, so hopefully they'll help us to fight. I definitely plan to be at the front this weekend," he said.
Hamilton was given a 20-second post-race penalty in Malaysia for defending his position with more than one change of direction in a battle with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.
Hamilton denied that he had been too aggressive in defending his position against Alonso, his teammate in an acrimonious season at McLaren in 2007.
"I don't think I was overly defending my position," said Hamilton.
"I'm a racer, and people want to see racing, want to see overtaking. I would never in a million years try to put anyone else, not even myself, in danger. "When you're defending, you have to try to make your car as wide as possible.
"I only lost one place (because of the penalty). I was quite far back so it didn't really make any difference to me. I lost two points, and of course those two points could be the deciding factor at the end of the year, but I hope I can make them up elsewhere."