Jenson Button says the advantage McLaren gets from its straightline performance has been exaggerated, and that the team actually needs more downforce.
Rivals have suggested that McLaren could be very hard to beat in China this weekend as its F-duct system will give it a crucial boost on the Shanghai track's very long back straight. But Button played down McLaren's straightline pace.
"Some of it is because we're efficient, some of it is because we don't have as much downforce as the Red Bulls," he said. "They were 14km/h slower than us [on the straights] in Melbourne, and that's not because we're efficient, that's because we don't have the downforce.
"Hopefully we can keep close to them in the corners so that on the straights we can have a go. But first we've got to qualify close enough to them."
He is not sure whether McLaren is yet quick enough to challenge Red Bull in qualifying, although he has no concerns about its race pace.
"I think if it was dry in Malaysia, we would've been a lot closer," Button said.
"The car was better there compared to the previous races. We came with an upgrade and development parts that were an improvement. Here we have some small things, nothing that's really going to change our position on the grid too much.
"But every single time we drive the car we make improvements. Not just by developments, but by changing the set-up and finding out more about the car.
"So I'm hoping that we can get close to the Red Bulls in qualifying, because I think our race pace is good. I think we're as quick as the Ferraris and Red Bulls on race pace. It's just qualifying. If we sort qualifying out, we should have a good race."
He added that his period of settling in at McLaren and adapting to its car is also nearing its end.
"I'm almost there," said Button. "I feel that when I get to Barcelona, I'll have everything that I want to be 100 per cent. Where I am at the moment is already very good, I'm very comfortable with the car and everyone in the team."