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McLaren say Honda deal keeps them among F1 elite

LONDON -- McLaren's Formula One engine deal with Honda from 2015 is a vital step to ensure they can keep punching at the same weight as works team rivals Ferrari and Mercedes, managing director Jonathan Neale said on Thursday.

The Woking team have used engines provided by former shareholders Mercedes since 1995 but the German carmaker bought the title-winning Brawn GP outfit in 2009 and has made that its focus.

McLaren now have to pay Mercedes some eight million euros (US$10.29 million) a year for engines that they previously received for free, with that figure set to increase significantly in 2015.

“Mercedes have clearly focused their efforts around Brackley (where their works team is based) and that's completely understandable,” Neale told reporters after Honda announced their return to Formula One.

“If we are going to be compete at the upper echelons, then we need to be punching at that weight,” he added. “Getting together with a powerhouse like Honda enables us to punch at that weight.”

Honda and McLaren have a glorious past together, winning eight drivers' and constructors' titles between 1988 and 1992 when the Japanese carmaker provided the engines that allowed the late Brazilian Ayrton Senna and Frenchman Alain Prost to dominate.

Neale described the revived Honda partnership as a “conventional works team type arrangement” that he said was “absolutely vital” at a time of major change.

The sport is ditching the old 2.4-liter V8 engines at the end of this season for a new 1.6-liter V6 turbocharged power unit with energy recovery systems.

Honda will be competing against Renault — who power champions Red Bull — as well as Mercedes and Ferrari from 2015.

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McLaren Mercedes' British driver Jenson Button and Force India's Scottish driver Paul di Resta drive at the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo near Barcelona during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday, May 12. (AFP)

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