Magny-Cours, France, July 16: McLaren see Spanish stand-in Pedro de la Rosa as a benchmark in their search for a second driver for 2007.
The 35-year-old test driver has replaced Juan Pablo Montoya at the French Grand Prix after the Colombian's shock announcement last weekend that he was leaving Formula One for the U.S. NASCAR stock car series.
The Spaniard drew praise from the team on Saturday after qualifying eighth and just two places behind regular race driver Kimi Raikkonen.
"He did a fantastic job and you could see he was delighted that he was in the car," McLaren managing director Martin Whitmarsh told reporters.
"He's a benchmark isn't he?...to get that close to Kimi, who is blisteringly fast, has been around a bit and does know the car, is pretty good.
"If you look at where other team mates of Kimi have been in relation to Kimi recently, I think it's a respectable performance and he can build upon that and I'm sure he will," added Whitmarsh.
"The nice thing for us is that it creates a benchmark because the starting point -- if you are going to change that line-up -- is you've got to believe that what you are changing to is materially better."
McLaren have signed Renault's Spanish world champion Fernando Alonso for 2007 but, with Raikkonen expected to leave for Ferrari, have still to say who will be their second driver.
The decision is likely to come down to a choice between two young Britons, GP2 hotshot Lewis Hamilton and McLaren's second test driver Gary Paffett. De la Rosa filled in for Montoya in Bahrain last year, finishing fifth, and would like to put himself into the equation. He should have several races, and possibly all the remaining eight this year, to press his case.
Montoya is unlikely to return this season, despite the team saying he could because he remains under contract until the end of the year.
Whitmarsh said the second McLaren driver for 2007 was likely to be someone already in the 'McLaren family' but he did not rule out De la Rosa, despite his age.
"The nice thing about Pedro is that he is mature, intelligent, understands it all," he said. "Would he like to be promised next year's race seat? Of course he would.
"But he also is a realist and sensible and rational in a way that perhaps not all drivers are.
"He hopes I'm sure that he can win a race this year, and make it almost impossible for us to go any other route, and I hope he does," continued Whitmarsh.
"Any racing driver has got to be thinking 'Right, I can build on this opportunity and convince them to keep me. If he wins tomorrow, he'd make the best case possible."