Honda's new boss Ross Brawn believes that a new aerodynamic package will lift the team from the Formula One wilderness in the season opening with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Brawn, who moved to Honda late last year after 10 years as Ferrari's technical director, said here Monday that the new technology had proven promising at the test last week in Jerez, Spain.
He called the session a "very encouraging first step" to improve Honda, who finished third from last in the F1 standings in 2007, beating only Super Aguri and Spyker.
"We do have a long way to go. It will be each step at a time. But I'm encouraged by the progress we made last week," said the noted aerodynamist.
Brawn said a car with the new aeropackage was faster than one without it on qualifying laps.
"But it was particularly encouraging when we did race simulations," he said. "The new car is much more consistent with long runs."
Honda driver Jenson Button struggled last season, collecting six points to finish 15th overall in the final standings. His Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello failed to net a single point.
Brawn predicted his team would be a major force in the "midfield" of each race behind leaders McLaren and Ferrari.
"I think we should compete with a group of cars there, certainly not compete with the front of the group," he said.
"In Melbourne, we have to do a very good job," he said, "because even in the middle of the group it's very competitive."
Brawn said such teams as BMW, Williams, Renault and Red Bull would have similar laptimes and be "within a quite small time difference."
Button, starting his third year with Honda, said: "We really got a good step forward in aerodynamics."
"It was a very positive test, but there's still a long way to go before we get competitive at the front of the field," the 28-year-old said.
Button will be racing in his eighth season in Formula One in 2008. He has one win under his belt -- the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2006.
"Heading into Melbourne this weekend, I'm very much excited to understand where we'll fit in."