The once-great British team has struggled so much in the first season of works Honda power that another ex-McLaren driver, Martin Brundle, thinks McLaren is now in “crisis”.
But Swede Johansson, who drove for McLaren in the year before the team utterly dominated with Honda power in 1988, said: “I still believe they will make big progress next year.
“I don’t mean that they will be winning races but when you’re so far off it’s not difficult to make a giant leap forward,” the 59-year-old told his website.
“It’s only when you get to the last five per cent that it starts to get tricky.”
Johansson thinks Honda would already have made much more progress in 2015 if it wasn’t for the current F1 rules that significantly limit the development of the unprecedentedly-complex ‘power unit’ technology.
“It continues to make no sense to me,” he said. “The development ban was initially implemented to keep the cost at a sensible level, but that concept is already completely broken.
“It’s ridiculous to have a formula where there’s only one successful engine and the others are not permitted to do the development they obviously need to become competitive,” added Johansson.
“On top of that, you’re not allowed to go testing.
“If you were allowed to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the engines as you are on the chassis, I am sure that Renault, Honda and Ferrari would all be better — maybe not as good as the Mercedes but certainly a lot closer,” he said.
McLaren-Honda’s current situation means it must head into 2016 hoping that the ‘tokens’ deployed over the winter can turn the situation around significantly.
All the while, the team will once again field its all-champion lineup of Jenson Button alongside Fernando Alonso, the latter being F1’s highest paid driver who recently admitted his motivation this year has sunk to “two out of 10”.
“I don’t think Fernando will lose patience,” team boss Eric Boullier insists.
“He is committed to us for a multi-year contract – no option, no nothing – so that’s a real statement,” he told the November issue of F1 Racing magazine.
“The only danger I can see is that he’s a real competitor and he needs the excitement of the racing, so doing a good lap with a car that isn’t capable of better than 17th means he may lose this excitement,” Boullier said.
“You know, it’s like a flower that starts to wilt and Honda are very aware of this as well, so we need to deliver what we promised.” (GMM)