McLaren boss Eric Boullier looks a little less troubled than in 2015.
He says that he doesn’t yet know exactly where McLaren fits into the pecking order, but he can see clear signs of progress and he believes that with this new car, the team has delivered on the promises it made to its driver Fernando Alonso, who was clearly frustrated last season.
The Frenchman is presiding over the final days of testing for the new McLaren Honda in Barcelona and describes himself as satisfied with the progress of the chassis.
The engine still needs a little work, “but there are some good signs of progress,” said Boullier. “And I think the reliability is still a weakness. But at last we can run now so we can develop the car, which we couldn’t do last year. We can definitely validate systems. So it’s definitely a step forward. ”
Honda is two years behind Mercedes in development, so the steps they can make during this year are large.
Speaking to JA on F1 in the Mobil 1 unit at the track during the lunch break, Boullier said that one of the main Achilles Heels of the Honda last year, which was the electrical energy regeneration and deployment had been addressed, “yes the recovery is much better,” he said guardedly.
The car was running in launch specification for most of the test but on Wednesday a new rear wing was added, which will slow the car on the straights, but will improve the overall performance and lap time. Other Melbourne aerodynamic parts will be fitted over the coming days.
A revised Honda engine is also being used this week, as the team moves its package forwards. “The engine is still not at its full 2016 capacity, so we have a lot of performance still in the package. There is a lot of mapping and things which we can improve,” notes Boullier.
“Fernando says we can have a couple of podiums this year, which is true in theory, but we don’t know exactly where we are at the moment. We have a lot of things coming, but we can’t use them all yet.”
Honda has an aggressive engine mode for qualifying, which was one of the key defining features of the Mercedes last season in the final stages of Qualifying 3. It’s an area where Ferrari has been working hard. These maps can provide up to 30hp more than standard qualifying mode for short periods, but Honda is a little way off being able to maximise it. “The mapping on these engines is amazing,” he says. “You can play with the knock and get dramatic effects.”
The mood music from Alonso is certainly more positive. The Spaniard, who will celebrate his 35th birthday this season, has said that he believes the McLaren will be one of the best chassis by the start of the European season. So what makes him so confident?
“What we promised him we would deliver, we have delivered,” said Boullier. “So you have the trust. It was important for us to understand that the model we use in the factory is correlating with the track. That means that we can use this model to develop the car. And it looks like it works.
“The numbers we have at the track now are the numbers we had in the computer this winter. So Fernando knows what we are doing, as does Jenson. They know that when we promise, we do what we say. We are not over promising, not under delivering.
“We just deliver what we promise and I want to keep this line because it is the way to keep the trust perfect between the drivers and the team.
“He knows what is coming along and it’s my target to deliver the best car. With the current regulations you need three years minimum to get to the maturity of your chassis. We had no continuity from 2012/13 so last year we started a new philosophy and it started as not the best car, but by Abu Dhabi was the third best chassis. Check the GPS traces. So in one year we caught up a lot.
“We believe that the step we made through the winter and with the development up to the race here in Barcelona, will make us closer and maybe even better.”
Boullier says that Alonso has not added any pressure to McLaren by saying that he doesn’t want to be a tourist travelling around the world without winning. He adds that they all share the same goal, which is to get a winning chassis and engine package as quickly as possible.
What do you think of McLaren as it looks so far? Do you believe they will challenge for podiums by the end of the season? Leave your comments below