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Planning ahead - exclusive interview with McLaren's Eric Boullier

15 Oct 2014

One thing is certain about McLaren’s 2015 car: it will be powered by Honda. As to who will drive it, that’s another story. Despite some strong performances from the team’s current mix of youth and experience - Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button - neither driver has been confirmed for next season.

With rumours swirling of a Fernando Alonso return, we caught up with team racing director Eric Boullier to discuss driver plans, development cars, and the team’s continued renaissance in Russia…

Q: Eric, all the talk is of Fernando Alonso returning to McLaren? When will your 2015 drivers be announced?

Eric Boullier: There is still no decision yet.

Q: But you must have a clear vision of what kind of driver McLaren needs in 2015? What would make you happy?

EB: I will not tell you much about this - just this much: we need a mix of experience and eagerness. In this time of recovery for McLaren I need a boost, so our driver line-up needs to be boosting the team’s morale and team’s determination to reach as quickly as possible the level where we should be.

Q: What are the benefits of hiring a big name for next season versus those of staying low key in 2015 and then making a big splash in 2016 when the Honda ‘transition year’ is over?

EB: I always said that we are working on the strategy for the coming years - plural - which means we could take on a big name now, or even two big names for next year, or we could stay the same and go for a big name - or again two big names - for 2016. We are still assessing what we should do, as it is a big decision that will obviously be driving our success for the medium term. If we take the wrong decision we could be successful in the short term but maybe not in the long term. And we are in the comfortable position of being able to wait. I know that doesn’t make it comfortable for Jenson (Button) and Kevin (Magnussen), but I have to think about McLaren first. We have to make sure we make the right decision.

Q: If you say that you could even go for two big names in 2015, that would mean Fernando and Jenson - no other big names are on the market…

EB: Ha! Yes, we have to see who is on the market in 2015, but also who would be available in 2016 - maybe quite different names would come up then!

Q: But isn’t that not just a question of what you want to do, but when you want to do it?

EB: I am asking myself that question almost daily. It is comfortable to say, ‘Let’s keep the same driver line-up another year and let’s see what our new engine partner will bring and how it works.’ I am a racer - and (McLaren Chairman and CEO) Ron (Dennis) is as well - so of course we both want to apply the maximum pressure everywhere. So let’s assume we will have a big name next year - or two big names - but do we have the right technical team behind them, the right leadership? Is everything in place? Can we make sure that everything is in place in six months? It’s like Russian roulette: you only have one shot! If you bring the big name now and are not ready enough then you start to deliver too late and burn his determination - then what? So what we actually need is a massive boost for the whole system, and if we miss the momentum we will kill everything.

Q: What are Honda expecting from you?

EB: To do more than our best I guess - and vice versa. What we first expect is to have this massive benefit of a works team relationship.

Q: Can one really imagine a driver as experienced as Jenson suddenly finding himself without a drive?

EB: That is a question for Jenson’s management. My job is to make McLaren win.

Q: You just said that it is not only a question of drivers, but also of team leadership. Will there be changes over the winter?

EB: Before the winter. Winter should be the beginning of the period of stability.

Q: At the end of August, Honda said that they will run the car and power unit together for the first time at Jerez at the beginning of February 2015. Now we hear that there might be a ‘development car’ before that…

EB: To make sure that we are ready at the launch of the new cars in 2015 we’ve decided to build a development car, as Honda needs to check all the multiple systems. We also need to check the IT link between track and Woking and between track and Japan. So as not to have to focus on these things too much in the test season, we’ve decided to run a development car programme.

Q: What will be the difference between this development car and the one you are running right now?

EB: In terms of car design it will be very similar to this one. We don’t want to burn money on unnecessary areas. We just have to make sure that some technical options for next year are already on the car.

Q: When and where will you run it?

EB: Whenever things are ready we will run. We never said that it will be Abu Dhabi or Jerez.

Q: But is it likely you will run the Honda engine in the two Abu Dhabi test days at the end of the season?

EB: Yes. When it’s ready, of course. We will take the decision in a few weeks.

Q: Sochi was new for everybody. And McLaren were one of the teams that got it right…

EB: It was a combination of things: the track and tarmac suited us, and the upgrades that we brought to Singapore and which didn’t work there, but which we then modified for Japan and worked there… and with more development on these upgrades we finally made them work last weekend. We also expect to do well in Austin.

Q: After last weekend McLaren now sit fifth in the table…

EB: But believe me, that is not my dream result. P5 for me is no target!