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Alonso proving McLaren progress - Eric Boullier Q&A

13 May 2016

Two weeks after scoring his first points of the season with sixth in Sochi, Fernando Alonso booked top 10 spots in both practice sessions at his home race in Spain. Given the scale of the upgrades McLaren-Honda have brought this weekend, racing director Eric Boullier says there is now clear light at the end of the tunnel - and admits the team are starting to get excited about their prospects both at Barcelona and in a fortnight in Monaco...

Q: Having scored points in Russia, if you get another top 10 this weekend can we say there is light at the end of the tunnel for McLaren?

Eric Boullier: Yes. Of course! With the package that we have we know that we will be able to unlock a lot of performance in the coming weeks and months. It is good to see that we are moving forward also in terms of results - in Sochi and also Fernando's performance today. Single digits [in the standings] are always positive, whether in the race or practice. Sure both are not what we aim for - there is more in the DNA of McLaren-Honda than providing single digit results if that single digit is not 1! But yes, it is good to be there and see that the curve is running north!

Q: What is a bigger priority right now, one car claiming points, or both cars finishing? In other words, is mileage still top of the list?

EB: Right now the most important thing for me is performance – and results are a parameter for performance so clearly finishing in the points has my preference. Or even being fast even if we don't finish. Last year was another story, but now it is 2016. And after all, it is easier to make a car reliable than it is to make it faster.  

Q: How much are you still investing in the current car, given the changes coming in for 2017?

EB: When I joined McLaren we brought back the idea of concept and philosophy – which allows us to keep developing this car now. Everything that we do on this car will be applicable to next year's car. It is then just a transfer of knowledge and technology – so it is valid to say that we are already working on next year's car.

Q: Will the new regulations allow to simply transferring knowledge and technology?

EB: If you do it smart, yes. I want to make sure we are sticking to the concept and philosophy – that whatever the car will look like you can use the same method. Some knowledge that you gain from this year is directly applicable – yes, some may be not be, but the understanding that we have will allow us to develop faster.

Q: Rules about engine convergence could be good for your team too. How much progress are Honda making in catching-up?

EB: It looks good! We have another level of discussion with Honda. Clearly Hasegawa San is understanding our needs – which are also Honda's needs. So they are already working flat out on the 2017 engine. The possibility to accelerate development is key for us – and is key for Honda. So the 2017 changes are positive for us, positive for F1 and positive for the show.

Q: And who is losing? In big changes there is always somebody losing...

EB: Ha, we hope everybody else! (laughs)

Q: There was much hype about Jost Capito joining McLaren-Honda, but he is yet to come aboard. Do you know when it will happen?

EB: To be honest I don' t know. I have an idea when he will start – but it is not fixed yet. Probably a bit later in the year. He will join when he is ready. 

Q: Renault's team principal Frederic Vasseur believes that Kevin Magnussen could be one of five drivers potentially competing for the title in 2019 - and he listed Stoffel Vandoorne as another. What is your approach to Vandoorne's future with the team? Red Bull, after all, have just promoted Max Verstappen...

EB: We have the luxury to have three good drivers. We have two champions and a super talented youngster. It would not be fair for me to discuss in the media what we have not started to discuss internally! When the time is right we will take the decision in order to achieve the best for McLaren. Stoffel was in the car in Bahrain for example – which makes him a contender for a race seat.

Q: So you are definitely aware of his potential - and what others think about him?

EB: Of course! And I am very relaxed as he's got a contract with McLaren! (laughs) So everybody can call him as hot as they want – I don't care.

Q: Isn't life a bit dull always having to walk towards the end of the grid? What are the three things that could change that immediately?

EB: Ha, not only the grid – the paddock as well! With the mileage that I have to do I get fitter! But in reality I have to come to terms with my own frustration not to be able to fight for wins so far. I know that our package is good so all it takes is to be a bit more patient and not do anything stupid.

Q: Stupid?

EB: You have to do the right thing in the right time and place – and in order. Something stupid would be to change everything that has been built up until today. We have a great atmosphere, a great commitment and a great level of competence – now we have to wait until it blossoms. And it will come. Both for McLaren and Honda.

Q: Fernando hopes this weekend, and Monaco in a fortnight, will be a big chance. What do you say?

EB: I would bet on Monaco! But I agree: Fernando is so enthusiastic to race here – his home race – that he probably could pull big points out of his helmet! (laughs)