McLaren is convinced that its chassis is now as good as Ferrari's – and would be strong enough to fight with its Italian rival for third place in the championship
Although it is no secret that McLaren's performances are still limited by Honda's horsepower deficit to Mercedes, the Woking-based outfit thinks good gains have been made with its car.
And despite not yet being in a position to fight for podium finishes, McLaren racing director Eric Boullier believes that the team would be challenging at the sharp end if it had more power.
“We believe our chassis is in the top three – let's say fighting with Ferrari for the third spot,” he told Motorsport.com.
While it is clear that Red Bull and Mercedes are at the head of the pack in chassis terms, Boullier thinks that it is hard to make more gains without there being a power lift.
When asked where he felt the McLaren was lacking compared to the Red Bull, he said: “It's difficult to make comparisons, because you cannot compare high, low, and medium speed.
“Our chassis is aerodynamically efficient. But if you have more power, you can also bring more downforce.
"But more downforce means more drag, which we cannot afford now because we do not have enough horsepower.
“When Honda brings an upgrade, we too can bring a bigger aerodynamic upgrade. That then brings more downforce and drag, and it works.
"But today we have to be very efficient aerodynamically to not penalize ourselves with too slow a top speed.”
Honda stepped up
Although still wanting Honda to make further power gains, Boullier insists that progress has been good – and he says the relationship between team and engine partner is now very positive.
“We had to learn how to work together, and we had to learn the cultural differences and the issues,” he explained.
“There were ups and downs, but today the relationship between McLaren and Honda is very good and Honda is now stepping up – and we are getting closer and closer.
“Every month we meet with Yusuke Hasegawa [Honda's F1 engine chief] either in Japan, or in the McLaren headquarters. And there are many scheduled meetings. It is a lot of travel.
"Physically we are meeting once a month, every month.”
Although everything is pointing towards McLaren-Honda finally delivering a decent amount of success next year, Boullier remains cautious about predicting anything.
For he is well aware that the ultimate fate of the partnership will rest on what Honda can do with its engine over the winter.
"I will never, ever set targets today as long as we don't control the power unit development – and we don't. It is Honda,” he said.
“We can have big gains from this year to next year.
“If we are at the level of Mercedes, it will be in seconds, not tenths – in seconds! So we cannot say anything.
“If we have the same power as Mercedes next year I know we can fight for the wins, and for podiums, and maybe fight for the championship.”
Interview by Roberto Chinchero