Pierre Gasly is confident he’ll be fighting for wins at Red Bull with Honda engines in 2019, but future team-mate Max Verstappen remains wary of the prospect.
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix, both drivers faced questions about the promise of the Honda engine that will power Red Bull in 2019.
“[Honda] have been struggling in the last few years but next year we are going to be in a position to fight for the top positions,” Gasly said. The same level of optimism wasn’t shared by Max Verstappen. He said Red Bull won’t be “strong enough” to fight for a victory in the initial parts of the season and they’ll only “catch up” as it progresses.
Gasly views 2019 as a “big opportunity” for Honda, who returned to Formula 1 with McLaren in 2015. He encouraged the manufacturer to “make the best” of the situation with Red Bull, who’ve won four World Championships in past seasons.
After driving for Toro Rosso in 2018, Gasly has experience with the Honda engine, which received a major update in Japan. The third-spec unit immediately produced a double Q3 appearance. Honda’s General Manager Masashi Yamamoto said the latest update made the unit “very successfully complete”, as reported by Green Flag F1.
On Thursday in Mexico City, Gasly said Honda’s progress since Japan is very encouraging, echoing thoughts voiced by Christian Horner in Suzuka. During that weekend, the Red Bull Team Principal was “hugely impressed” by Honda’s continued effort and commitment to shake a rocky reputation acquired from three infamous seasons partnered with McLaren.
Speaking after last weekend’s US Grand Prix, Horner applauded Honda’s constant improvement. Asked whether his team could compete for World Championships with Honda in 2019, the Red Bull Team Principal told Sky Sports it would be a “tall order”, but remained confident they could enter the fight over the next couple of seasons.
Gasly’s attitude did remain somewhat planted in reality. He acknowledged the “super difficult” challenge of catching frontrunner manufacturers Mercedes and Ferrari, who’ve spent the 2018 season vying to have Formula 1’s benchmark power unit. Gasly confirmed Honda is continuing to work on their unit ahead of the 2019 link-up with Red Bull.
“I’m really confident they [Honda] will keep improving and I’m really excited to see what they can do ahead of next year” – Pierre Gasly
During the Japanese Grand Prix weekend, Sky Sports F1 broadcasters suggested the updated power unit would produce half-a-second of performance. Following the US Grand Prix, Christian Horner told Channel 4 F1 that Honda’s update was, in fact, 0.6s a lap quicker than Renault. He said this was “tremendously encouraging.”
Red Bull announced the link-up with Honda in June this year. The move marks the end of their partnership with Renault, who supplied Red Bull since 2007. The pair enjoyed success before the turbo-hybrid era by securing four consecutive Constructors World Championships.
But, Renault’s constant unreliability is producing tension in 2018. Max Verstappen publicly shamed the power unit during this year’s Singapore Grand Prix, where drivability proved to be a massive hurdle. This prompted Renault’s Managing Director, Cyril Abiteboul, to describe Verstappen as a “demanding user”, as reported by Green Flag F1.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was unable to finish qualifying in Japan as well as last weekend’s United States Grand Prix because of power unit issues. Ironically, Verstappen reported trouble with his power unit halfway through FP2 in Mexico, adding that the team “really need to look into it.”
The Red Bull driver then suffered a complete power failure in the closing minutes of FP2, but Verstappen wasn’t worried immediately after the session.
The Red Bull-Renault storyline could develop further in Mexico, as the uniquely high altitude of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez puts an unusually large strain on power units. Honda’s Technical Director Toyoharu Tanabe explained earlier this week the lower air pressure forces a different ICE setup and more careful management of cooling.
Christian Horner, speaking to Sky Sports F1 after FP2 in Mexico, said the engines are “struggling” for air this weekend.