Honda are preparing to spend the last of their engine upgrade 'tokens' soon.
McLaren's works 'power unit' partner have made good progress in 2016 and still have three performance 'tokens' to further improve their unit this year.
"We introduced a new engine at Spa when there were nine races to go, so we will need to introduce another engine," the Japanese marque's F1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa is quoted as saying by Italy's Autosprint.
"It could happen in Malaysia or Japan or the US. We don't want to take a penalty in Japan, so it would make sense to do it in Malaysia."
Indeed, avoiding a penalty and then having a strong engine for Suzuka would be a good sequel to the 2015 saga, when Fernando Alonso infamously derided his "GP2 engine".
"We are still discussing with the team but I do not think the fans would let me take the penalty in Japan," Hasegawa said.
It is also a possibility that while one McLaren-Honda driver will take the upgrade in Malaysia, another might have to wait until Austin late next month.
"It's another point to be discussed," Hasegawa confirmed. "We do not want both cars back on the grid from the perspective of the constructors' championship, so it may be better to have different strategies between the cars."
McLaren are sixth in the constructors' standings ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix.