Eric Boullier finishes his meal, acknowledges a group of Bahraini investors sat at another table, and sits down. AS speaks to the McLaren racing director in Baku, ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The interview starts.
What has happened this year, Eric? Why has it been so disastrous? Last season it seemed like things were on the up.
You ask me a question which is difficult because… The problems with the car come from two things, the chassis and the engine, as we know. I think, in terms of performance of the engine, I don’t think we had the set-up we were supposed to have, or we were promised. So that’s it. So that is why it looks like we went backwards.
Honda have changed things a little for this grand Prix. Will that help?
It looks like there is a little bit more performance.
In terms of power? Will there be 10 more horse power, 20?
I wouldn’t know exactly. A little more.
Can you tell us any more?
Ask Honda, not me.
Do McLaren still have confidence in Honda?
Yes we are confident in Honda because they have a lot of resources and willingness to do it. What I am not confident in, is the timing when Honda will deliver. It is different. Honda are very committed to the sport, to McLaren, to the project, it is just on the timing that I am not confident.
What is the goal for the rest of the season?
It is very difficult… We don’t have any numbers, you know the situation. My goal is to make sure that we have the best team and the best chassis, this is the McLaren goal, and obviously we want Honda to catch up as fast as possible.
Will McLaren stick with Honda in 2018?
We have a contract. We can do things differently, but this is a different debate.
Will Fernando Alonso be at McLaren next season?
If we can guarantee to him that we will be competitive, I think his priority will be to stay with us. He has always said that he likes the team, he knows the people at McLaren, we are competitive, that’s all. So if we have a competitive car, he will stay. I’m sure.
How do you rate Fernando Alonso?
There is no change in what I have said to you. Alonso is the best.
Put him in GP2 where all the cars are the same, and he would be on pole and win the race. In Formula 1 everyone is building with engines, chassis, units… to be the best in Formula 1 you have to have the best chassis, the best team, the best engine, and the best driver. If one of these is not the best, you can’t be at the front. So today, I believe the McLaren team is good, the chassis is competitive, but we don’t have the best parts that you need. If we can figure out this element, then we have everything to be at the front.
It is said that the chassis is just behind those of Ferrari and Mercedes, as is the aerodynamics.
It is difficult to say. Everything is changing, because people keep developing the cars. They change every race, with some layouts you are good, with some layouts you are less good. So it is very difficult, but let´s say it is competitive because it is not far.
Have negotiations taken place with Mercedes for McLaren to use their engine next year?
I am not going to answer these kind of questions because it is driving controversy. I understand that it is your job, but it is also my freedom to not answer.
You have told me that with a Mercedes engine, you would win races. Do you maintain that?
If we had a Mercedes engine? Yes. But with ‘if’, I would be world champion every year.
"If we have a competitive car, he will stay. I’m sure."
To change the subject… what do you think of Carlos Sainz?
I know him and I like him.
Is he an option for McLaren in the future?
Everything is an option in this paddock. I don’t have a contract, so if he would be free, and if I had no drivers for next year… But it’s… I like Carlos, he is an option, yes. I mean, it’s not an option, it’s… you look at the paddock, you look at the drivers, we have a strategy and we know what we want. We want to keep Fernando.
How do you see Formula One under the new ownership?
I don’t think there have been many changes yet. There are a lot of intentions, a lot of willingness to transform Formula 1, I think all of the ideas we have heard from them are good, it is going in the right way, but now we need to see more actions, you know.
A while ago you told me that the future of F1 is in pay-per-view.
Today the business plan of Formula 1 is based on TV revenue, as well as sponsors and promoter revenue, so if pay-per-view TV is paying more money, it is obviously attractive for Formula 1. It is not [attractive] in terms of viewers, and I think if we can have a balance of free-to-air and pay-per-view, it’s fine. Generally the content on the pay-per-view is better. There is more content, there is more of a show, more different actions… but we need to make sure that there is a balance so we don’t lose the viewership. And if they can generate revenue for somewhere else, from other platforms like phones, iPads, or internet, maybe they can relax a little bit on the TV and balance it differently between free-to-air and pay-per-view.
In terms of this season, who do you see as the favourite?
I don’t have a favourite. Mercedes will maybe be a little bit better. Maybe Hamilton.
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