McLaren believes that its recent drop in form owes more to specific track characteristics than it having fallen back against improved opposition.

A few races ago, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso were targeting regular Q3 and race points finishes, but the last two events in particular have been a huge disappointment.

In Japan a fortnight ago, the duo qualified 15th and 17th, while at Austin this weekend, Alonso ended up 12th while Button was left languishing in 19th after hitting traffic on his final run in Q1.

Of more concern, however, is that the team has fallen further away from the front this weekend in overall pace terms.

But rather than be worried that it has lost its way, McLaren racing director Eric Boullier thinks the Austin performance is down to similar factors that caused its difficulties in Japan.

“I think it is only due to the track layout,” he said. “Some track layouts we will be stronger, some track layouts will be further back a little bit."

“And also we believe if we do our comparison with our competitors, you can see in the midfield it went very, very close.

"With the gap in terms of seconds we have now, we would have been higher up in the ranking seven or eight races ago, but it just got closer.”

While McLaren’s car is excellent under braking and has good aerodynamics for initial turn-in and changes of direction, it struggles more on long sweeping high-speed corners.

This is understood to be down to a combination of factors, including a relatively high centre of gravity of the power unit, which is believed to not be as light as the engines of other manufacturers.


Gallery: McLaren blames circuit layouts for drop in form