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F1 Power Tracks No Longer Scare Honda

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Pierre Gasly at 2019 Hungarian GP
Photo: Honda

Red Bull-Honda’s Max Verstappen believes the team no longer needs to fear the Formula One tracks that had once been “quite painful” for it in the past.

Since the start of the hybrid power unit era, Red Bull had depended on specific circuit characteristics to help it compete for wins. Its chances to win went up significantly at tracks that reward high-downforce cars, and its chances went down at “power tracks” that reward cars with strong straight-line performance.

This was a pattern for McLaren and Toro Rosso as well, which once dreaded power tracks because of their Honda engine’s inability to keep up with rivals. But both Verstappen and Honda F1 managing director Masashi Yamamoto say that fear is receding as the manufacturer makes big strides forward.

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“Last year we were definitely down on power, and on those critical tracks it was definitely quite painful,” Verstappen said. “This year we are close to Mercedes. Ferrari is of course flying on the straight, but they have less downforce.”

“We know that we can still improve our car. And from the engine side, they are pushing it hard,” he added. “We know what we can get in the coming races, and again it’s all very planned and measured and without any silly risk-taking.”

The Honda-powered Red Bull has taken two wins so far in 2019 — in Austria and Germany, two tracks that once would have given Honda trouble. It also had the pace to comfortably finish on the podium at the British Grand Prix held at the notoriously power-dependent Silverstone circuit.

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The next two races in Spa and Monza will give Honda its biggest test yet, but Yamamoto says he isn’t scared. “In terms of Spa/Monza we weren’t that bad last year. It was much better than our expectations,” he said. “That was down to how to manage the engine, and we have improved that a lot after Austria. We have less fear now towards those circuits.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner echoed the sentiment. “Austria is power-sensitive, Silverstone is power-sensitive—and we’ve been competitive at both of those venues,” he said. “Hockenheim, we were very competitive in qualifying and then the quickest car in the race. Across a variant of circuits we’ve managed to make a good step forward.”

Red Bull had initially expected its 2019 season to be a step back from 2018, but this has turned out to be the opposite, with the Honda engine proving to be much more reliable than the Renault engine, and quicker too. It’s likely the team will win more races before the end of the year.