McLaren CEO Zak Brown believes his team will face a “tougher” campaign in 2020, and is predicting the midfield fight to be “tighter than ever”.

The Woking-based team turned out to be the surprise package last year as it climbed to ‘best of rest’ status behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, claiming its best finish in the V6 hybrid era.

Although consolidating its fourth place is the primary aim this season, McLaren is bracing itself for a stern challenge from its nearest rivals, in particular Racing Point who showed impressive pace in winter testing.

McLaren boss Brown says he’s wary of Racing Point’s pre-season form, and even conceded the British outfit could slip to as low as sixth in the constructors’ standings.

“I do think this year is going to be tougher,” Brown said on the latest Sky F1 Vodcast.

“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.”

Brown admits that due to the COVID-19 outbreak delaying the season by four months, upgrades will be hard to come by for the team.

The pandemic has left McLaren facing financial difficulties, where it is even willing to sell a minority stake to increase funds, but Brown is optimistic the MCL35 will prove competitive.

“We’ll be bringing some toys as often as possible,” said Brown. “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.”