BARCELONA (Reuters) - Once-mighty McLaren, who failed to make an appearance on the Formula One podium last season, completed a miserable hat-trick of races without a point at the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday.
Despite the poor run of form, their longest drought in five years, Racing Director Eric Boullier said there were signs of progress.
"Yesterday, our qualifying form showed that we’d taken a small step forwards in terms of performance," said the Frenchman after former McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton chalked up his fourth win in a row for Mercedes to take the overall lead.
"We know our journey to full competitiveness won’t be a short one, but it’s already clear that the trend is in the right direction."
For 2009 champion Jenson Button, Formula One's most experienced driver, three blanks in a row represent his worst run since he was at Honda in 2008. He finished 11th, with Danish rookie team mate Kevin Magnussen 12th.
"You just do the best job you can with the car, you learn something, and we learned something today," the Briton, who will be testing in Barcelona next week in preparation for the showcase Monaco Grand Prix, told reporters.
"I feel we have progressed, but the first lap made all the difference because we couldn't get temperature into the tyres which cost us a lot because it is so difficult to overtake at this circuit.
"The car did feel a little bit better in the race, but we just couldn't do anything with it, so we've still a lot of work to do," he said. "We're still going as fast as we can, doing the best we can, it's just that everything transpired against us."
McLaren, the second most successful team in the sport after Ferrari in terms of race wins, slipped to sixth in the championship.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)