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Honda Ups F1 Budget in Bid to Keep Max Verstappen on Board

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Toro Rosso team behind Kvyat's car at 2019 Japanese GP
Photo: Honda

Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport is reporting that Honda is upping its Formula One budget for 2020 in its bid to catch Ferrari and Mercedes, but also to ensure Max Verstappen stays at the team.

The Japanese manufacturer introduced its final engine upgrade ahead of its home race at Suzuka, but Red Bull was not able to take full advantage of it as Charles Leclerc crashed into Max Verstappen on the first lap.

And while teammate Alexander Albon did go on to score a career-best fourth place, he and Verstappen would have hoped to start higher than sixth and fifth, respectively, especially at a track that should normally suit the Red Bull car, at least in the first two sectors.

According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Verstappen and his father Jos are putting pressure on the Red Bull-Honda alliance, having indicated they may be looking to change teams for 2021. Both entities have every reason to want to retain Verstappen’s services, who has won two races for Honda this year and is widely considered to be one of the most talented drivers on the grid and a future champion — if provided the right hardware.

At the 2019 Hungarian GP, Verstappen met with senior management from Red Bull and Honda to discuss the Japanese manufacturer’s plans for the future of its F1 program. While Honda F1 project director Toyuharu Tanabe admits that “the big teams still have an advantage over us,” Red Bull advisor Dr. Helmut Marko claims Honda will match Ferrari and Mercedes in 2020.

Honda certainly has the potential to do it. It has already increased its F1 workforce from 250 people in 2017 to 450 in 2019, and is investing 140€ million on the development of next year’s engine. Christian Horner, Red Bull team principal, also believes in the alliance.

“The great thing about Honda is that they are fully focused on working with Red Bull and Toro Rosso,” he said. “That is significantly different to what we were used to before. Our former engine supplier used another fuel and oil partner for their factory team. But we are involved in all of Honda’s development, and that includes the fuel and the lubricants. It’s a true partnership.”

At the 2019 Japanese GP, Red Bull’s fuel partner ExxonMobil introduced a new F1 fuel that was reported as delivering better performance. ExxonMobil’s technical manager said it was a completely different type of fuel that had never before been used in F1, and Verstappen confirmed that he could feel the extra power it provided.

Honda has made major strides forward since splitting with McLaren in 2017, but catching up to Ferrari and Mercedes, both of which have massive budgets — not to mention a large head start in the hybrid F1 era — has been difficult. Red Bull and Honda will need to be able to seriously contend for championship titles to keep Verstappen from moving to one of the other teams, and with only one year left to his contract, 2020 will be the season that makes or breaks their relationship.