McLaren boss Zak Brown believes Formula 1's ever-competitive midfield will be "tighter than ever" in 2020, admitting that his team's progress could be halted by the "very quick" Racing Point and Renault.
After four years struggling further back on the grid, McLaren, one of the sport's leading lights, enjoyed a bigger improvement than any other team in 2019 as they rebounded to fourth - behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull but ahead of the midfield rivals they had previously been playing catch-up to.
The Woking outfit are hoping to continue their "road to recovery" this year, as Brown told Sky Sports F1, but are braced for a sterner test - particularly from Racing Point, who impressed back at winter testing in February.
"I do think this year is going to be tougher," the McLaren Racing CEO said on Wednesday's 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."
Carlos Sainz, who will be leaving the team to join Ferrari at the end of the season, and young British hopeful Lando Norris will once again be leading McLaren's charge this year, with eight races in 10 weeks once the delayed season starts in Austria on July 5, live on Sky Sports F1.
Car upgrades could also be key to dictating the success of McLaren's campaign, although Brown admitted spare parts could be more of a worry.
"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."
The Formula 1 season will begin on July 3-5 live on Sky Sports F1 with the Austrian GP. The race is the first of eight in 10 weeks in Europe, with every race live on Sky Sports.