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Ron Dennis insists McLaren were right to switch to Honda power

Both MP4-30s to start season-opening Australian GP on back row

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McLaren group CEO Ron Dennis confirmed that they are a long way behind the rest of the grid after both drivers were knocked out of Q1, six seconds of the p

Ron Dennis has defended McLaren’s decision to reunite with Honda in the wake of the team’s 'worst ever' display in qualifying for the Australian GP.

Both McLaren-Honda cars will start Sunday’s season-opening race last on the grid. The fastest lap recorded by the team, a 1:31.422 by Jenson Button, was over five seconds adrift of the time recorded by Lewis Hamilton as the world champion claimed pole position for Mercedes.

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McLaren ended their engine partnership with Mercedes last year to join forces with Honda, with whom they dominated the sport 25 years ago, and despite their ignominious start to 2015 Dennis remains adamant that his team will only be able to win the world championship again as a ‘works outfit’ with an exclusive engine partnership.

“If your objective is to win a World Championship, you have to have a strong OEM [original equipment manufacturer] behind you which has the technology and capability to produce a winning engine – and that’s what Honda has, they’ve proven it many times,” Dennis told Sky Sports F1.

“It might take a bit longer than we would like but we are on the journey and we will see it through to the end.”

Button, who will start the Melbourne grand prix from just 17th, told reporters during testing that although McLaren wouldn’t “have a race-winning car at the first race we might have one at the last race".

And despite further setbacks this weekend in Australia, the Englishman’s confidence in the McLaren-Honda ‘project’ remains undimmed.

More from Australian Gp 2015

"I don't know how long it will take, but this is the package that I feel will challenge Mercedes,” the 2009 world champion told Sky Sports F1. “I really do think that. This car is very important to the future of Formula 1.”

Jenson Button
Image: Jenson Button

Nevertheless, the size of McLaren’s deficit to Mercedes has surprised the F1 fraternity, with Button and Kevin Magnussen, standing in for the injured Fernando Alonso, in danger of being lapped by Mercedes before the halfway stage of the race.

"The times say it all. We are obviously at the threshold of a very steep hill,” acknowledged Dennis. “We are a long way behind. But the other engine manufacturers have had a year’s head start on us and the systems we have developed are complex and clearly not functioning correctly at the moment.

“We are going to be heavily criticised through the opening part of the season but we know what it takes to win and we have every belief in Honda’s ability to produce a winning engine.

“This is an appropriate time to be a strong partner. They understand the problems but we are functioning as one team. If there are any comments to be made about the engine, it’s for Honda to make it.”

It’s understood that, following a series of malfunctions during testing, McLaren are still not running their engine at full power, exaggerating their pace disadvantage to Mercedes. However, with each car restricted to just four engines this year, and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo already using up a quarter of his permitted allowance, Dennis believes that a conservative approach is sensible.

“Keeping an engine in one piece in this early part of the season is critical for accelerating development,” he added.

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