LONDON, England - McLaren's Formula 1 engine deal with Honda from 2015 is a vital step to ensure the team can keep punching at the same weight as rivals Ferrari and Mercedes.Managing director Jonathan Neale said on Thursday (May 16) that the team had used engines provided by former shareholder Mercedes since 1995 but the German automaker bought the title-winning Brawn GP outfit in 2009 and had made that its focus.McLaren now has to pay Mercedes some eight million euros (about R88-million) a year for engines previously received for free, with that figure set to increase significantly in 2015.GLORIOUS HISTORY"Mercedes has clearly focused its efforts around Brackley (where its works team is based) and that's completely understandable," Neale told reporters after Honda announced its return to F1. "If McLaren is to compete in the upper echelons it needs to be punching at that weight. Getting together with a powerhouse such as Honda will enable us to punch at that weight."Honda and McLaren have a glorious history, winning eight Drivers' and Constructors' titles from 1988-92 when the Japanese automaker provided the engines that helped the Brazilian Ayrton Senna and Frenchman Alain Prost to dominate. Neale described the revived Honda partnership as "a conventional works team arrangement" that he said was "absolutely vital" at a time of major change.The sport is ditching the the current 2.4 V8 engines at the end of 2013 for 1.6 V6 turbo units with energy recovery systems. Honda will be competing against Renault - which will power Red Bull - as well as Mercedes and Ferrari from 2015.NO EXCLUSIVITY DEALAlthough McLaren is alone with Honda, which quit the sport in 2008 when it handed over what is now the Mercedes team to then tea principal Ross Brawn, there was no exclusivity deal."All manufacturers and engine suppliers coming into F1 know that they do so with an expectation that, should they be required, they must be prepared to supply more than one team," Neale explained. "At the moment we are the only team working with Honda and we've got no illusions about how much work we have to do to be ready for 2015."Neale was confident McLaren's performance would not be compromised and said Mercedes, which also supplies engines to Force India, had been assured its intellectual property would be protected with no leakage of engine secrets to Honda."Our relationship with Mercedes spans two decades... we are very careful abour protecting each other's intellectual property. We've given the undertakings to Mercedes which has been respectful about giving us all the information we need but not giving us more than we absolutely need to get the job done."Certainly there will be no poaching or dismantling of parts."'MAINTAINED CONTACT'Honda's expected return has been a talking point in F1 since 2011 and Neale said links with the manufacturer had never been broken since the 1990's."We've maintained contact with Honda... over many years," he said. "We have the heritage collection (of old F1 cars) here and we support them in the running and parts for their heritage collection."A few senior players... started a speculative discussion but those conversations have really only materialised in today's announcement in a matter of months."McLaren has Britain's 2009 champion Jenson Button and Mexican Sergio Perez as drivers, with no guarantee either will still be there in 2015. Neale said Button, Honda's last race winner with its works team in 2006 and now 33 years old, clearly hoped to be."Jenson will drive here for as long as he wants to drive here," he said. "He's a great guy and he's doing a really good job for us in some difficult times. He fits our value and our culture here really well."