Since winning four consecutive Formula 1 world championships between 2010 and 2013, Red Bull have looked on as Mercedes succeeded them as world champions – and then outstripped them by winning five titles on the trot.
From the moment in 2017 when McLaren, similarly frustrated with its Honda power units, split from the Japanese manufacturer, it seemed inevitable Red Bull would take their place. They had burned bridges with Renault, who at any rate now had their own factory team to put first, and neither Mercedes nor Ferrari were ever going to share their hardware with the team which looked most capable of beating them.
But it would be wrong to think of Red Bull and Honda’s marriage as being solely one of necessity. Honda may be the only works engine partner available to Red Bull, but the deal will both bring income (McLaren sacrificed huge sums by severing its ties with Honda) and allow them to make cost savings as it can share more parts with junior team Toro Rosso.
All this is incidental to the business of winning, however. Dietrich Mateschitz’s team is not in F1 to be bit-players. The most important question for Red Bull is whether Honda, in their fifth season back in F1, will finally produce a competitive power unit.
Towards the end of last season there were encouraging signs they might. Following the introduction of Honda’s ‘spec three’ power unit in Russia (which was subsequently raced for the first time at the manufacturer’s home race in Japan) Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost declared their suppliers had finally eclipsed Renault in outright performance.
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Of course he was only ever going to toe the Red Bull party line. But Toro Rosso’s performance in qualifying, especially during the latter stages of 2018, indicated genuine progress has been made.
Did it come at the expense of reliability? This isn’t an easy question to answer. Toro Rosso’s drivers got through more power unit components last year than any of their rivals. But it’s clear this was partly a consequence of the rate at which Honda was pushing ahead with its development programme in anticipation of 2019.
The sight of Pierre Gasly’s Honda going pop as he drove for the line at the end of his final qualifying lap last year cannot have inspired confidence at Red Bull. But Renault gave them plenty of aggravation on Saturdays last season too. This was especially true for Max Verstappen, who was one of the loudest critics of the French power units (contractual clauses forbidding him from publicly denigrating their product notwithstanding) and strongest advocates of the team’s switch to Honda power.
While Verstappen and the rest of the senior management at Red Bull have indicated they don’t express progress to be instantaneous, the team’s newest recruit pointed out it won’t necessarily be linear either. “The development I would say is never consistent,” said Verstappen’s new team mate Gasly towards the end of his first season with Honda power last year.
“Sometimes you don’t find anything for eight months and then suddenly they try something on the dyno that works and you get four-tenths suddenly. It’s not like a consistent development.
“Maybe mid-December they will find something that gives them five-tenths and will put us in a much better position. It’s too difficult they answer. They clearly [have] not caught completely but recovered a big part of the deficit.
“There is still one that I don’t expect them to recover straight at the beginning of next year but at some point I know they are investing a lot and developing a lot. I expect them to get closer and closer but I don’t know when they will match them.”
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Gasly is also best-placed to appreciate how much success means to Honda. Last year he described how his performance engineer Keisuke Minatoya was almost moved to tears after their first qualifying run with Honda’s latest spec-three power unit.
“In Suzuka in qualifying we were seventh, but should have been P6 or P5. I was losing three-tenths in the straight and I came to see him after quali.
“I was a bit disappointed even though it was a good result. [But] he was almost crying because he didn’t manage to give me the full potential of the engine.
“When you see the people you work with so involved in the performance that’s always great to see.”
Don’t underestimate Honda’s determination to succeed. Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul acknowledged last year their rivals had been “investing massively” in their development, “probably and apparently much more than us.”
Honda was humiliated not just because it was rejected by McLaren, but Sauber too, the Swiss team having scrapped a planned tie-up a few months after it was announced in 2017. The Red Bull partnership is their opportunity to prove those teams were wrong to spurn them.
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25 comments on “Why Gasly understands Honda’s thirst for success with Red Bull”
18th January 2019, 10:33
Very interesting. It would be great for the sport if Honda (and Renault) manage to close the gap to Mercedes and Ferrari.
18th January 2019, 12:57
interesting times ahead!
18th January 2019, 13:12
For sure the ideal scenario for Honda would be that they are immediately stronger as RBR/Honda than last year’s RBR/Renault. Interesting times for sure. Huge pressure for Honda. RBR is famous for their great cars so it’s a safe bet they’ll have that end covered, as well as showing their ability to merge a Pu with a great car.
18th January 2019, 13:26
I think the most assurance that show Honda can easily be the best three are the fact that they going with Red Bull and Toro Rosso willingness to take more grid penalties to help Red Bull.
18th January 2019, 12:11
“The Red Bull partnership is their opportunity to prove those teams were wrong to spurn them.”
I know what you mean here but it’s maybe a little simplistic. McLaren split with Honda because what else could they do? They had been loyal for far longer than Honda (at that time) deserved… And I guess Sauber changed their mind because they received such a good offer from Ferrari/Alfa Romeo. If I had been the boss of either team I’m sure I would have done the same.
I would love to see Honda come good, and also to see RBR on more equal terms with ‘the other two’… but if/when it happens it could also be said RBR lucked into Honda’s Good Times – not that the others were ‘wrong to spurn them’…
18th January 2019, 12:59
Is that so?
I was obvious McL hide their internal problems behind a failing Honda and forgot to look at the own mistakes.
Honda was the scapegoat for a lot of power struggles in the management team at McL.
19th January 2019, 3:44
That’s nonsense. There’s no proof to show that Mclaren made a poor car and was suffering internally from 2015 to 2017. All their stats on chassis dependant circuits showed that the car was actually quite good.
It’s amazing how people look at Mcalrens 2018 performance, and then automatically use that as an excuse to say that Honda wasn’t terrible between 2015 to 2017.
19th January 2019, 12:25
The 2018 car carried much of the 2017 car with it. In doing so they baked in some design flaws that could not be dealt with. The company itself has stated this and admitted they are far behind in terms of chassis ability. They just had a useful scapegoat, could carry a load of wing because the car was expected to be slow and then say ‘look how good the chassis is’ when it patently was not. Alonso should have known this immediately.
Given the company is undergoing a root and branch rebuild and has been using the Toyota wind tunnel because their own is out of date, the signs are there that they know how bad it is. Frankly though it is unforgivable they have allowed themselves to get into such a mess. One that frankly would see any normal company out of business. Given the number of such I have worked on turning round, they have been very very fortunate. Not all companies have a private bankroll able to step in. Honda must have been insane to continue with them under such a financial load.
20th January 2019, 10:52
DrG, the fact that McLaren have been using the Toyota Motorsport Group wind tunnel isn’t proof by itself that their own wind tunnel is out of date, as virtually every single team is likely to use the TMG wind tunnel at some point during the season.
Most teams usually make use of a session in the TMG wind tunnel as a calibration exercise – probably the only team that doesn’t do that is Haas, and that is because their cross calibration is carried out between the wind tunnels at Ferrari and Dallara instead.
20th January 2019, 1:47
Todfod, I look at the 2017 car and I see that hungary and singapore performance, although better than power tracks, was disgusting for a team that claims to have chassis able to compete with the top 3!
18th January 2019, 13:06
I think that is well said. I only disagree slightly with the ‘lucked into’ part because while after this long there is a chance Honda might have something respectable to offer that is both powerful and reliable at the same time (remains to be seen), much will depend on the marriage of car to Pu as we know, and they are lucky to have Newey in board. So yeah, hopefully they’ve lucked into a good Honda, but much still depends on them integrating it to their car. This will be Honda’s best hope too, vs a weak Mac marriage and a small team year-one STR marriage.
18th January 2019, 14:02
McLaren could have looked internally and fixed their own problems. But they decided to do the biggest ever self goal in the history of motorsport – Give up 100 mn dollars, pay 20 mn, get rid of your go-to excuse for everything.
And the “(at that time)” part of your comment is also not correct. I know many McLaren fans like to put forth the theory that Honda improved only in the winter of 2017-18 (after the split). But this theory automatically assumes* certain other things to happen simultaneously, the coincidences of which are just too many to be believable:
*Other automatic assumptions required to prove this theory:
1. McLaren went from best chassis to worst chassis at the same time Honda improved.
2. McLaren went from mediocre / poor chassis (2013 and 2014) to best chassis (2015) at the same time they switched the engine.
3. McLaren’s car was slow on straights but well-balanced 2 years continuously (2017 and 2018) but for 2 entirely different reasons. 2017 because of bad engine and great chassis. 2018 because of decent engine and poor chassis.
4. Tost who has on record said that Honda were already better than what people thought it was at the end of 2017 is lying.
5. It is absolutely correct to dismantle large part of your design team which has made only 1 bad car in 4 years.
Do the other assumptions add up? IMO, no.
18th January 2019, 18:03
Whether RBR-Honda gets it right or not, it was still for the best that McLaren parted ways with the Japanese manufacturer (and likewise for Honda).
McLaren may have exaggerated the strength of their chassis in 2017 (and in 2015-16, as well). But they certainly didn’t have a bad car, given their more competitive performances in tight-twisty and/or aero dependent tracks (don’t forget Alonso’s surprising P7 qualifying lap in Spain 2017 or combative drive in USA 2016).
From Ross Brawn’s recent remarks about Honda (where during the 2000s, they firmly believed their V10s/V8s were the most powerful, only to be proven wrong by Brawn after he compared them to Ferrari), as well as Gary Anderson’s comments in the latest Autosport podcast, it’s clear that the Japanese manufacturer had been somewhat detached from reality (and clueless) since returning to the sport in 2000. This was inadvertently backed up by Franz Tost himself, when he said he found himself “shocked” on Honda’s lack of knowledge after the 3-years with McLaren (all the while trying to throw shade at the Woking team during that interview).
I think Honda’s reputation was already on shaky ground after coming back a 4th(?) time in 2015 (after they replaced veteran staff from BAR with their Japanese talents, who proceeded to design/make terrible F1 cars in 2007 and 2008), and it took an even further hit when during that season Yasuhisa Arai kept making bogus statements/promises (“we’re more powerful than Renault’s PU” or “by Spa (2015), we will be a match for Ferrari’s PU”). So given all that, you can’t really blame McLaren and Fernando Alonso for being fed up by late 2015, with their frustrations boiling over in 2017.
Honda not only prevented McLaren from racing competitively, but it also prevented them from establishing a clear benchmark as to where their chassis development really stood. Since the Honda PUs were either very slow/lacking on energy deployment and/or unreliable; which prevented the car from performing at its limit (remember Alonso’s “I can take all corners flat” comment during 2017 winter testing?). Now with Renault, McLaren are able to finally get a good understanding of where their car sits in the pecking order and thereby try to find the proper fixes.
Lastly, Pierre Gasly (ever the suck-up) confidently defending Honda for taking as long as 8-months to (probably) come up with something good is a terrible thing to say. That kind of performance may all be well in good when you’re a bottom mid-field team, but unacceptable when your aim is to win championships.
18th January 2019, 23:54
Sumedh, I believe that the claims about the amount of money that some have claimed that Honda were putting in to their partnership with McLaren are disputed, and the indication is that your figure of $100 million is probably exaggerated by a fairly large margin. I believe that an individual associated with Honda’s development team has suggested that the true amount that Honda contributed to McLaren was substantially lower than that – less than half the figures you’re claiming – and that the higher figure is more likely to relate to Honda’s initial start up costs rather than their ongoing commitments to F1.
@rafael-o, you are right that, traditionally, the main area where Honda have struggled has been in the efficiency of their energy recovery systems – indeed, in the past they’ve talked about the challenges of trying to balance making the engine more efficient with the effectiveness of the MGU-H.
In 2017, at least, even Honda’s own staff admitted that the problem with their power unit wasn’t so much the peak power output over a single lap, which seems to have been reasonably competitive by the end of the season, but fuel consumption when operating in race conditions (i.e. where it wasn’t possible to charge up the hybrid systems over an out lap). In terms of fuel consumption, Honda had the highest fuel consumption that season – the indication being that McLaren had to use the full 105kg fuel allowance, and whilst the chassis might have produced more drag than they perhaps indicated, at the same time it seems that Honda’s MGU-H was also a weak link.
Now, it does sound as if Honda have improved to some extent on the efficiency of their energy recovery systems over the 2018 season, though there does seem to be some ambiguity over whether that has possibly come at the expense of reliability. The focus does seem to have been on peak power, but perhaps that is a slight mistake – it’s been more of a limitation of how much the power unit could be pushed over an extended period of time that has been more of an issue.
To some extent, I would say that the situation is perhaps a bit more in the middle of the two extremes that are presented – that, whilst Honda’s performance is perhaps better than the more extreme criticisms that have been levelled at them, at the same time the assessment by Sumedh is perhaps a bit overcritical of McLaren’s side of the deal and that Honda were certainly not without fault themselves.
It’s why, in some ways, I wouldn’t be surprised if, for all the fanfare, the overall result might end up being more of a sideways move for Red Bull – I don’t think it will be a disaster, but with Ferrari and Mercedes already starting from a strong position (even if they’re possibly running into diminishing returns now) and the suggestions that Renault have gambled on taking a bigger step forward on power at the risk of reliability this winter, Honda are chasing a moving target and will still face challenges to catch up across the full spectrum – not just in terms of power, but in terms of efficiency and reliability (and the latter are perhaps the bigger challenges than power alone).
18th January 2019, 12:38
I hope Red Bull can had the same warm relationship with Honda.
I knew we talking about Max, Horner and Marco here, but still…
Luke S (@joeypropane)
18th January 2019, 13:14
I think the expectations being higher with RBR, and no car performance walls to hide behind like at McLaren, will make Honda combust even more than they already have.
McLaren remained very diplomatic during their combined struggles (barring a few breaks in patience), the likes of Horner, Marko and Max? They are going to struggle to keep a lid on it if they are fighting to get into the top 6 or finish a race…
18th January 2019, 13:31
I think hardly anyone doubts how much Honda wants to win and disprove their critics. But many doubt that they know how to do it, despite throwing as much money at it as they have.
Surely Honda partnering with Red Bull makes sense for both. And both will want that success. And will invest a lot of money into it.
But none of that actually guarantees much. As Gasly rightly remarks, it is not a straightforward path to find the “missing” (see still not there!) power. It will eventually come, certainly if the current engines are kept for a while longer, but when …
Also, let me note once and again, that since their second year back in F1 Honda have always seemed to have at least some kind of powerup for qualifying, it showed in the difference between their qualifying and races for McLaren, and the same trend was pretty discernable with STR. And it showed with the change of engines for both of those teams.
While that can be very helpfull for Red Bull – gaining a qualifying spot with a top 3 chassis should help gain more chances at top results – especially at higher power tracks, it will still leave them with lower power to keep ahead if that cannot be sustained for the race.
18th January 2019, 13:51
Well said @bascb, well said.
18th January 2019, 15:15
Again, this claim is not backed by any proof. If this were true, McLaren (2015-17) and Toro Rosso (2018) should have gone backward in every race. However, they didn’t. In races where they qualified well, they stayed there during race day as well. When they qualified bad, they stayed there next day as well (e.g: Bahrain and Hungary 2018 for Toro Rosso, 2017 Brazilian and Abu Dhabi grand prix for McLaren). I am quoting examples of boring Grand prix not wildly affected by safety cars or rains. There are more for sure.
The days of having stark variance in qualifying and race pace are long gone. 2013 was the last season where we had this anomaly. And even then, the anomaly was due to tyres, not the engine.
This argument once again, tries to feebly justify McLaren’s decision. McLaren made tall claims of how Honda was significantly behind the other 3 and Renault was going to be a big jump ahead. But qualifying is black and white and it became obvious to everyone that Honda’s deficit is marginal, not massive. Races are difficult to read due to race starts, strategy, tyres playing a massive role in deciding the pace of the car and makes it difficult to prove or disprove any theory about the engine power. Hence, this theory about Honda’s engine being weak in races is being propped up by McLaren fans.
19th January 2019, 10:25
Rigth. So on the one hand you find enough dislike for McLaren (and their general aura of hubris) to say that McLaren are all making it up, that Honda was better than everybody knew they were all along. And on the other side Honda have made huge steps now that they are finally released from a toxic relationship with McLaren who were dictating the impossible?
Sorry, but I don’t buy it. I am sure that it was not just Honda – the McLaren both in 2017 and in 2018 clearly was not a good car, that was even visible most of the time we saw it on track. For 2017 they mentioned the woefull unpreparedness and lack of information of Honda at the start of the season as partially to blame (forcing late adaptations), as shown in that documenatary. I am sure that is partially true, if surely not the whole picture.
For 2018 we do have to allow a partial disadvantage of having to adapt their car at a relatively late stage to the very different Renault. Then again, STR had to do the same for a Honda and their car showed far more promise on track.
I also am convinced that Honda hasn’t made as huge a step forward as STR and RBR have claimed from the onset of 2018. But after all the experience they already had with developing that engine (remember they made a different one mid relationship with Mclaren because the first concept just did not work) it is certain that the engine has to be a lot better even from simply eliminating teething issues they ran into during over a year of using that.
Also, I see a pattern of exactly what I mentioned in both how McLAren and STR qualified in the last two years, despite your view that nothing the like is discernable.
18th January 2019, 13:49
Talking about party mode here?
18th January 2019, 17:37
Doesn’t matter how badly Honda want to succeed, it’s not a given and they have failed miserably so far.
There is no indication Honda can do better next year other than BS PR babble, which the pokey journalists seem to love making into “news”.
Jay Menon (@jaymenon10)
19th January 2019, 0:42
So how long before Max starts to poo-poo his Honda engine? GP-3 Engine?
19th January 2019, 1:47
Late May/early June…? ;-)
19th January 2019, 13:48
Well he’s already said that as long as the Pu is capable of contributing to a competitive package he won’t mind the odd blowup. He’s expecting teething problems and some unreliability, but those will be much easier to take if at least when the Pu does last a race he is able to compete for podiums with it ala 2018’s RBR/Renault. I would really be surprised (and disappointed) if Max is anything but patient and diplomatic this season when it comes to Honda. It’s the beginning of this marriage, not the end as it was with Renault. Also, I think nobody (including Max) is expecting the Honda Pu to be up there with the Merc or the Ferrari Pu, so if Max points out that they are down on hp, like he would often point out last year, I will not take that as slagging Honda. It will just be a fact, and hopefully a temporary one. But I know that won’t stop some from claiming Max is already running Honda into the ground.
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