McLaren racing director Eric Boullier is confident that Honda will get ‘very close’ to Mercedes performance levels in 2017 as the Japanese manufacturer evaluates a major engine overhaul.
On the back of decent progress this year, Honda is understood to be considering a revamp of its powerunit to make the most of the opportunities afforded by the scrapping of Formula 1's token system.
And, although not revealing exactly what Honda planned to do for 2017, Boullier has expressed some confidence about what is coming.
When asked by Motorsport.com in an exclusive interview if Honda could match Mercedes as early as next year, Boullier said: “I would love to.
"I think we will get closer. I don’t know if we will match them, I hope so, but we will get very close.”
Progress is coming
Boullier is aware that Honda has not delivered on expectations so far, but says that its situation has perhaps looked worse because it has had to do much of its early development in the spotlight.
While Mercedes was able to develop its hybrid engine for a number of years before it raced for the first time in 2014, Honda hasn't had such a luxury of being able to work away from the spotlight.
That is why Boullier thinks it unfair for people to expect Honda to be delivering top levels of performance just yet.
“We have had to put our expectations down – and when I say down I say compared to the past, because we want to win,” said Boullier. “Ron [Dennis] and I are racers, so I am not enjoying being 10th. Not at all.
“But now we have to be realistic about what we are doing and we are building up. When you look at Mercedes, it took them four years to build the engine before they got the to track and nobody knew what they are doing before. So they turned up and did a good job.
“For us it is three years only, but for two years we are under the radar of racing, so people are saying, ‘what are you doing?’ But we are just doing the same, going the same path. It takes time.”
Boullier said he was also encouraged by how Honda had reacted under new management, following the arrival of Yusuke Hasegawa as its new F1 chief earlier this year.
“These people have more of a racing mindset,” he said. “We have a very good relationship with them and their understanding of issues and expectations are easier.”
When asked what Honda had to do to make the necessary improvements, Boullier said: “I will not tell you, but I know. They know too.”
Boullier did suggest, however, that there had been some compromise in Honda’s previous reluctance to hire staff from other companies to help its progress.
“It [hiring outsiders] is not key to improve, but it helps," he said. "They have a different approach now, everything moved halfway and it is fine.”
Interview by Jacobo Vega