But after Malaysia, and the long three-week gap that preceded this weekend's Chinese grand prix, the rhetoric from the Woking based camp is now infinitely more positive.
Jenson Button is refusing even to rule out a title challenge.
"The championship is still on as far as I am concerned and I am aiming for that. Definitely," he said.
That's not to say McLaren has fixed all of its problems in the weeks since Malaysia.
But managing director Jonathan Neale on Tuesday suggested the team has at least identified the major issues, having taken a big step forward even in the mere days between Melbourne and Sepang.
"We know where the problems are and I believe we're on the right track now," he said.
Most teams have announced they are taking significant upgrades to the China-Bahrain double header, but McLaren is rolling out not only scheduled developments but also a raft of changes in light of what has been discovered about the flawed MP4-28.
"It's a long season," said Neale. "Everything we do is designed to get us to win races and if we can get on that quickly - and there's no reason why we can't - we should be fighting for the championship."