McLaren-Honda relations at "maximum" strain – Boullier

McLaren has admitted that its latest engine woes are putting “maximum” strain on its relationship with Honda, but it retains faith the Japanese company can get on top of its problems soon.

Stoffel Vandoorne lost valuable track time during Tuesday morning’s test session at Barcelona after an engine change was needed to help get to the bottom of an electrical problem.

With Honda still chasing answers to a failure that blighted its first week of running, time is now running out for the reliability dramas to get sorted before the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

When asked by about how much of a strain the latest issue was putting on the relationship between McLaren and Honda, racing director Eric Boullier said: “Maximum. Obviously we are in F1, we are racing, and we have to perform.

“So the pressure is obviously huge and obviously we put the maximum pressure on all of our relationship with Honda, and the same for them.

“We cannot put a footstep wrong. We need to be able to deliver the best car as well, so this is both sides.”

Repeat problem

Honda has suffered three engine issues throughout testing: one caused by an oil tank design, one believed to be related to valves and today’s electrical issue.

Boullier suggested, however, there there was a common factor in two of the problems, which at least delivered hope of accelerating understanding to find a fix.

“From the outside world it may look like it is a different problem, but at least two of the problems were the same,” explained Boullier. “So it can be addressed in time.”

He added: “The one thing is we are running the same spec as last week so obviously that doesn’t mean there are any changes in this block or any modifications done.

“I think, the next spec will have addressed part of this problem, or most of this problem.”

No major concern – yet

With McLaren falling behind in mileage compared to rivals, it is facing the prospect of heading to the Australian Grand Prix on the backfoot.

Boullier said, however, that the dramas for the team were not yet a big worry, although the onus was on Honda to get on top of matters quickly.

“Not very much concerned yet, let’s say,” he said. “Obviously we would like more laps because we would like to test more parts, but the few we have done is good, and the correlation is good, so we can now build a bit on predictions I would say. So not concerning yet.

“For the rest, obviously I leave this in the hands of Honda to make sure that they investigate properly, they address it properly and we have to rely on our partner and we believe that they will do it.”

While the scrapping of F1’s token system means that there is more scope for Honda to make big changes to its engines to overcome problems, there still remains a limited number of power unit specs that can be used during the campaign.

Asked if that meant the possibility of a struggle over the first quarter of the campaign, Boullier said: “Based on this testing we can expect to have a few engine changes, but they will have addressed this before the start of the season or at least quickly into the season.”

No divorce

Although Boullier said McLaren board members had made clear their feelings behind closed doors at Woking, he insisted that no thought was being given to cutting short the relationship with Honda.

“No. We have a contract in place,” said Boullier. “We don’t even obviously think about it, because there is a contract between us, a long term contract, and we want to build on it even if it is not ideal times.”