Fernando Alonso says McLaren's form in Malaysia is "better than he anticipated", but adds they are still under-performing.
After missing out at the Australian GP due to a concussion, the Spaniard finally made his 2015 debut at Sepang this weekend, but the team failed to make it through to Q2.
However, McLaren have clearly taken a few steps forward as they were further off the pace at the season opener in Melbourne.
Alonso believes they have improved by as much as 1.5s in the two weeks and he was once again upbeat after Saturday's qualifying session.
"Our form today wasn’t unexpected, but I think our performance so far this weekend has maybe been better than I’d have anticipated before arriving here in Malaysia," he said.
"In fact, I’d say the progress we’ve made since Australia has been fantastic – we’re much closer to the cars in front now – but we’re still under-performing and we still need to improve.
"However, the steps we’re taking with the car show a lot of progress, so I’m optimistic that I won’t be qualifying in Q1 for that much longer. If it rains tomorrow, it’ll be another learning process for the team."
The double World Champion will start 18th on the grid as he was beaten by his team-mate Jenson Button.
"For me, too, the start procedure, the formation lap, the pit-stops – they’ll all be firsts for me as I wasn’t able to practise any of them in Australia," he said.
"That makes me feel confident that there’s a lot more to come in the next few weeks. This isn’t an ideal position from which to start the race, but I’m fully aware that McLaren-Honda is a long-term project: we want to beat Mercedes, and to do that you need time, and to be prepared to take your chances as they come."