sits down with McLaren Racing Director Eric Boullier to discuss McLaren-Honda's tough 2015 season thus far, expectations going forward and when we can expect to know more about who will be driving for it in 2016...
As we head into the second-half of the 2015 season, firstly summarise your feelings about McLaren-Honda's performance during the first-half of this year

Eric Boullier
I think the thing that is most important, is the unexpected lack of performance. At the same time, I would say the project was so immature that internally we had some expectations like this. So the hard work which has been done, even since even Abu Dhabi last year and now in this shutdown, this break, has been tremendous. It's unbelievable.
From the beginning when the car was first rolled out in Abu Dhabi, was there a realisation then just how challenging this season would become?

Eric Boullier
I think at this stage we understood, we were 'immature' if I call it like this. As McLaren-Honda, it was a less than two years project, I think it was too short time, too ambitious, if you want in such a short time period. It was very ambitious to expect to be ready.
With the benefit of hindsight, would it have been worth considering debuting together in 2016 instead?

Eric Boullier
No I'm not saying this, I'm just saying the level of maturity of the project was not ready to compete. The good thing as well to have - and there is always good in bad -, it pushes us out of our own boundaries. We are much more efficient and committed and work much harder because we are in this situation. If it was behind the scenes back in other years I'm sure we'd be much less efficient in developing and a lesser speed of development.
Has this difficult period benefited McLaren behind the scenes from an operational point of view?

Eric Boullier
Oh my god yes. It's true that even with all the experience and expertise of McLaren, it was a real setback for McLaren and it did a lot for us to revise some basics and in some way bring some parameters into the system, which was not bad. I think definitely you can feel now that the personnel is actually working very well. I would not say we're on the backfoot because we are catching up, every performance step, you don't see it sometimes on some tracks but clearly making the reliability, the performance and the chassis development all at the same time is changing, all the time.
So where do you see McLaren now? Spa was tough and Monza threatens to be a hard circuits despite the new engine...

Eric Boullier
Yes because it is quite difficult to explain to fans. It's not just the power, the engines are very complicated in terms of energy recovery. So what I mean by this, you have an engine, which is an internal combustion engine, and an electrical power engine. If you can properly manage the energy, because we have limitations per lap, you can use both of them to maximum. At Spa, we were lacking a little bit of power on combustion engine but we can't use 100 per cent of our electrical power which means it is a big hurt for us. To give you an idea here, we can't use it on the two straight lines and not even in the full straight line. When we know, Renault and Ferrari and Mercedes use it in all the straight line, in full.
How much does that equate to in terms of lap time?

I will not say, because it is not fair... but it is a lot.
You personally come from a technical background, though your role with McLaren is managerial at the moment. How involved are you on the technical side at both McLaren and Honda?

Eric Boullier
Both parts run on different company actions rather than one model. It's true that I am very interested and maybe curious how it works you know. I am definitely happy to bring any help, support, expertise from McLaren to Honda if it can help ease or facilitate the acceleration of development.
Much is said about the Honda power unit, but what of the McLaren chassis? How do you rate it?

Eric Boullier
We don't claim we have the best chassis. We know our chassis is better than last year's chassis. So this means we have improved but we keep in mind that we have completely changed the concept of the car. I wanted to have a bit of time and commitment for where we go, not changing the car every year out of the blue. We need to have some consistency, this is the key to success. So in this first year, if our chassis is better than last year's car, then it is supposed to be at its best in two or three years, not before. So this is why this is not a bad chassis. Now if you go into absolute performance on track, we are not the best chassis, Mercedes Red Bull and Ferrari are - but we are catching up.
Honda's mid-season evaluation was fairly candid and honest about its struggles at the moment. Do you think it was a fair assessment?

Eric Boullier
Yes I agree. I think the project was too ambitious. Clearly it took Mercedes three and a half years to prepare this engine. Honda starting from scratch cannot do it in two years when Mercedes had nearly four years. It's impossible. But they do have the energy, the commitment and the resources and they will do it. Definitely, we trust them 100% like they trust us.
Has McLaren turned its attentions to 2016 yet?

Eric Boullier
Yes of course we are already. In 2016 we see very steady regulations, so it will be an evolution. 2017 is more where our focus will start soon.
Is the 2017 season a good opportunity for McLaren-Honda to get back on terms with rivals with a more level starting point?

Eric Boullier
Yes and no... I would say yes. If you want to be successful in Formula One, since 2009-10, you need to have a car concept which is stable. It means you need to increment every year in development. It took 4 years for Mercedes, it took 4-5 years for Red Bull. It's the same story because this is modern Formula One. So, our concept car will be mature and start to deliver in 2-3 years. 2017 is going to be a change in regulations and a good thing as well it that teams that have a mature aero or car concept will have to restart from scratch but for a team like us, who don't really have as much as concept at the moment, it will re-balance nicely.
Regarding your drivers for next season, when can we expect a decision to be made?

Eric Boullier
I believe there are some options we can contemplate. I believe in a few weeks before there will be discussions. There are a few elements we are trying to put in place which will help make a good decision for the future.
How much have you enjoyed working with Fernando and Jenson this year?

Eric Boullier
They both are very professional. They are waiting for the performance of the car to start to enjoy and to push as a racing competitor. They are 100 per cent committed and they help the team as they can, to make the car faster. They know exactly what they want and they know what happens. The good thing is that with their experience they can filter what is a priority and what is not a priority.
There is a particular buzz behind Stoffel Vandoorne... how impressed are you with his runaway dominance in GP2 and how much will this impact his chances of reaching F1 next year?

Eric Boullier
If you're in a young driver program, it's to make sure you can nurture and blossom them. And clearly this year he knew he was doing a second year in GP2, he was there to win and to establish himself as the boss of the series and this is what he is doing. He has the attention of everybody in Formula One so this is just brilliant.
How have you found working within the culture of the McLaren team, compared with Lotus?

Eric Boullier
I enjoy working with Ron for the simple reason, he is an icon and a racer first, so we have some understanding. With McLaren, we've changed the way a little bit actually just to make it new and current, modern Formula One, which I think was necessary. But we respect the way in which McLaren was running it; we see a lot of very high quality people in McLaren. The standard of IQ is higher than any other team but it takes time, as you can see, to bring everything back together. I really, really enjoy it.
Given your tenure at Lotus, do you think it would benefit from the potential takeover by Renault?

Eric Boullier
I think it is vital for Lotus. I think it's good if Renault are committing to F1 because they already have such a past history with Formula One. They had a very successful story with Red Bull, it's time to close the book and do something else. Renault arriving in the form of a team again, it's very good for them as well in terms of retail. They experimented being engine supplier and definitely if you want to exist in Formula One you have to be a team and this is what Ferrari and Mercedes are doing.


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