Honda Will Become a Threat in the Championship Battle, Mercedes Says
The 2019 Formula One World Championship kicked off with Max Verstappen splitting the Ferraris in qualifying and finishing third on the podium at the Australian Grand Prix, giving Honda its best-ever result of the turbo hybrid V6 engine era.
The Honda-powered Red Bull RB15 car also topped the speed traps and, based on the inaugural race and pre-season winter testing, seems to have good reliability. Instead of kicking off the 2019 season on the back foot, as the team had predicted early in its partnership with Honda, it may be looking to challenge for the championship.
“Honda has certainly made a huge step forward,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. “If you look at the speed trace it looks a very different Red Bull than before. They are very fast on the straights and that is good to see because we want them in the mix and to have a great fight.”
Indeed, Verstappen seemed to have no issues passing Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the race, despite the Albert Park circuit being notorious for making passing difficult. “You saw how they have eaten up Sebastian into Turn 3, the power was enormous,” Wolff said. “The combination with Red Bull will become a threat. Based on the level of performance, you must certainly have them in the calculation for the championship.”
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Red Bull advisor Dr. Helmut Marko suggested that one of the reasons their car was so fast in the straights was that, accustomed to the underpowered Renault engine, the team hadn’t developed enough downforce into the car.
Meanwhile, Ferrari — who arguably had the best engine in 2018 — seemed to be struggling with reliability issues over winter testing, and is speculated to have turned down its power output in Australia.
Therefore it is possible that the Honda engine was flattered both by the RB15’s low-downforce setup and Ferrari’s derated engine. It should also be noted that Wolff has a tendency to play up Mercedes’ rivals and downplay his own team’s competitiveness, likely to help maintain interest in a series which Mercedes has largely dominated since 2014.
Nonetheless, there’s no doubt Honda is more competitive than it has ever been, and that Red Bull is certainly no worse off with Honda than it had been with Renault. What’s more, Red Bull is famous for its development rate throughout the season. Should the Honda engine prove reliable for the season, Wolff may be entirely accurate to say the team will challenge for the championship.
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