McLaren-Honda reunion a 'disaster' for credibility, says Eric Boullier
Boullier says three years of struggle with Honda has damaged team's credibility and sponsor portfolio
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 10/10/17 12:03pm
Eric Boullier has described McLaren's three-year marriage with Honda as a "proper disaster" for the team's credibility.
McLaren, the second-most successful team in F1 history, are pulling the plug on their lucrative Honda engine deal at the end of this season with the partnership on course to finish ninth in the Constructors' Championship for the second time in three years.
Despite Honda contributing an estimated $100m to the team's annual budget, the Japanese firm's underpowered and unreliable engine has damaged McLaren's brand, according to team chief Boullier.
And the Frenchman reckons it may not be until 2020 until they fully recover the lost prestige.
"When you look at the last three years it's been a proper disaster for us in terms of credibility and getting new sponsors," the McLaren racing director said in an interview with F1's official website.
"And then you have to take the long-term view: in the next five years I am absolutely sure that we will go back to where McLaren belongs. And with this bouncing back we get our credibility back and it will rebuild our sponsor portfolio. It might take two to three years."
While the McLaren-Honda split was only confirmed last week, as part of a complex engine swap also involving Renault and Toro Rosso, Boullier confirms that alarm bells started to sound at Woking when their supplier's new-look engine struggled in winter testing.
He added: "The crucial moment was after the Barcelona testing, when we tried to work and help Honda to improve the situation in a very short time, including having discussions with the other engine manufacturers, and without going into details, it became obvious that they again would miss the target that we had agreed for the season."
After dominating F1 in the late 1980s and early 1990s in their first era of partnership, McLaren and Honda reunited in 2015 with the ambition of repeating that dazzling success. The team's press release confirming their driver line-up for that first season said the campaign would be 'laying the foundations for future domination'.
But, nearly three years on and with no podium to show for it, Boullier admits that while the concept was a strong one, the partnership went awry from its early steps.
"Actually the idea was great: to revive the story of McLaren," he said. "I think it was more the approach to the project at the beginning. Things could have panned out completely differently if different decisions had been taken at the beginning - but this is always easy to say in hindsight."
Will McLaren prosper as a Renault customer?
Despite going from paid to paying status for their engine supply from next season in a new tie-up with Renault, Boullier insists the three-year deal is more wide-reaching than a simple customer arrangement.
"We are 'privileged customers' with Renault," he said. "We have the same engine and access to information as Enstone or Red Bull Racing, so this is a real partnership with Renault. We also have the possibility to work with them - to put ideas in the box for the future that might be taken into consideration.
"That will allow us to influence in the future. But yes, a full works team is different from our situation in 2018. But it is like in school: you look at the plusses and the minuses - and looking at all the plusses and minuses we made our decision, which we believe will be the best one for McLaren for at least the next three years."
He reckons the team would be fourth in this year's standings with a more powerful engine and that the additional prize money for finishing higher up the order would offset the fact they will be paying for their power supply in 2018.