The Red Bull-Honda collaboration could become the new F1 powerhouse

Max Verstappen showcased that a Honda-powered Red Bull is capable of winning, even in the 9th race of their collaboration.

Honda is a colossal company, an immensely powerful player in the automotive industry, immune to the ‘group trend’ that other manufacturers have gone into. Since its return in F1, though, back in 2015, it has been hit year with multiple reliability problems, publicly blamed for the misfortunes of the McLaren collaboration, to the point that nobody thought it could be able to stand back on its feet and rise to the challenge in this hybrid era.

The move to Toro Rosso in 2018 was a crucial one for Honda and its F1 plans, because it gave them the opportunity to make a fresh start, with a team that has minimal aspirations, fighting for the best possible result in the midfield battles. McLaren is a team that is used to be a front-runner, Fernando Alonso is a driver who wants to be the protagonist, not a bystander, and that played a huge role in the McLaren-Honda relationship through that 3-year spell. Toro Rosso, on the other hand, have been just the sister team of Red Bull, the first step for young Red Bull Academy drivers to make their way into F1.

Now, Honda had its chance to make everything the way it wanted it to be. No pressure, no strings attached.

Effort and grind run in the Japanese people’s blood. Japan is known for its commitment to work hard, trying and succeeding. And Honda does represent that mindset in the best of ways.

When the Red Bull-Honda collaboration was announced during last year’s French Grand Prix, it became apparent almost immediately that this is not a project that could give a championship in its first year – not even in its second.

Even though RB had all the essential data regarding the Japanese power unit from Toro Rosso, it was crystal clear that this is a long-term relationship, planned out thoroughly, with patience and determination to succeed.

“When they came back into the sport they had a very tough time in the years that they were with McLaren,” said Christian Horner.

“They then moved to Toro Rosso last year and they had some time to get their house in order and start to progress.

“All we have seen is a real dedication and determination, and that is why having won that race, Tanabe-san went to collect the trophy for the constructor.

“After all the effort that they have put in, it is great to see Japan represented up there and Honda picking up the constructors’ trophy.”

This has always been the right path for Honda in this era of F1, with the complexity of the engines playing a big part in a team’s success. McLaren didn’t realise that when it mattered, and the rest is history. Red Bull did understand that time would be needed for Honda to make the difference and bring back the championship to Milton Keynes.

The Austrians have built a well-run organisation, where people understand their role in the company, and fully commit to the goal, whichever that is. It is no coincidence that, even during the adversity with Renault over the last 5 years, they were able to win races and fight for podiums consistently.

This is the case in 2019, too. Honda has started a new cooperation with a team that can really help them propel their growth and get the coveted land as soon as possible.

Winning in Austria, in their home race, with hundreds of thousands of Verstappen fans cheering for him, is really the stuff of dreams. It is certain that Red Bull targeted that race, and took all the necessary measures to be able to fight for the victory in Red Bull Ring – the first with Honda.

Verstappen himself stressed the importance of the timing of this win:

“I’m just very happy that it happened today and it just gives us a lot of confidence as well to the boys and maybe a few doubts are going away because of it.”

The Dutch driver is the noncontroversial leader of this outfit, and that’s very positive for them. Last time there was an alpha-dog in that team was the Sebastian Vettel era and they won 4 consecutive world titles.

They have a clear path if Max decides to continue believing in this team and this project, because he is a driver that can be the star of this sport for the next 15 years. He is a talented young driver, a proven winner, and having him as their leader, it just makes everything easier for them and their road to a title.

It is really fortunate for Red Bull (and Honda, subsequently) that Verstappen does support this collaboration, despite his comments about the power of the engine, or his surprise that he was able to win in Austria. He just puts pressure on them, but not in a negative way.

Having said that, it’s necessary to remember that this project is not short-term. It’s a five year planned out cooperation, and no one stops either side to extend that contract and 2021 is going to be their breakthrough year.

Even if the new regulations don’t provide many changes to the technical side of the sport, Red Bull and Honda understand that this is the best timing for their push to a championship-winning campaign. They will try their hardest to keep Verstappen, and if they do, they will have all the ingredients to get to that trophy.

Red Bull has that reputation of a team that can exploit every change in the regulations every time they change drastically (namely, 2009), and Honda will by then have an even better PU to provide to them, better suited to their needs.

F1 is all about long term commitments, plans that run through the next 4 or 5 seasons – it’s the only way a team can reach the top.

Honda understands that, Red Bull does, too. No one can guarantee that they will get their chip fast or easy, but they will be contending.

Orange Magic: Max Verstappen wins 2018 Austrian Grand Prix

The second race of the first ever ‘triple header’ saw F1 return to the mountains of Austria, for the Grand Prix at Spielberg’s Red Bull Ring.

As it’s the team’s home race, Red Bull Racing had high hopes. These hopes were, however, seemingly shattered when a disappointing qualifying on Saturday meant that Max Verstappen would start the race on Sunday from P5 (which ended up as P4 when Vettel got a three-place grid penalty for impeding Sainz in Q2), with Daniel Ricciardo in P7 behind the Haas of Romain Grosjean. There was no reason for them to be yodelling just yet.

This weekend not only was a special Grand Prix for the Austrian team’s management, but also for Max Verstappen personally. With a sea of orange shirts in his very own ‘Max Verstappen Grandstand’, it is no surprise that this is seen as the second home Grand Prix for the Dutchman (with Belgium being the other one). Not only that, shortly before the weekend he announced he would be driving with a special helmet design. Rather than its normal dark blue, his helmet instead shone yellow as a thank-you to his first big sponsor, the Dutch supermarket Jumbo. Were these things the trigger for Verstappen to get the luck he so desperately needed?

Start of the Austrian F1 race. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

He had a pretty good start, and went from P4 to P3 after turn one as Kimi Räikkönen and Valtteri Bottas ran wide. Still taking risks on the first lap, he made slight contact with Raikkonen, who then had to run wide a bit. He was briefly under investigation for the touch, but the stewards decided it was just a racing incident as the consequences for the drivers were little.

Shortly after Nico Hülkenberg retired with a spectacular engine failure – resulting in some big flames – another car retired. It was none other than Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, whose gearbox got stuck in second gear, resulting in a loss of drive. This brought out the Virtual Safety Car on lap fourteen. Some teams decided to use this VSC to change their strategy, as Ferrari and Red Bull put on the soft tyres on their cars.

One team that didn’t decide to change their strategy, however, was Mercedes, and Lewis Hamilton stayed out on track. This led to a gap of just thirteen seconds to Verstappen, who emerged from his pit stop in P2. It takes roughly twenty-one seconds to complete a pit-stop in Austria, including time spent driving down the pit-lane, so it was looking disastrous for Hamilton. When he finally did pit, Max Verstappen inherited the lead and, from that moment onwards, dominated the race. Things later when from bad to worse for Hamilton, and he eventually had to retire the car due to engine problems.

Max Verstappen leading the Austrian Grand Prix. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

One critical issue during the race for lots of drivers was tyre degradation. Daniel Ricciardo for instance had changed to the softs during the Virtual Safety Car period, but after just twenty-two laps it became clear he would not be able to make it to the end, as his rear-left tyre was destroyed.

Someone that didn’t seem to struggle at all with the soft tyres, however, was Verstappen. He drove over fifty laps on those tyres to bring home the victory for Red Bull Racing, claiming his fourth career win. The orange crowds went insane and it didn’t look like the party would end very soon for the fans and the team.

Max Verstappen. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Criticised for his aggressive driving style many times this season, Verstappen has surely shown the press they were wrong. Whilst his teammate struggled on the same tyre compound after just twenty-two laps, Max managed to make it to the end and keep both Ferraris behind. Once again his aggressive driving style brought him a brilliant victory. Should he really change his driving style?

Austrian Grand Prix Review, Valtteri Bottas wins like a Bull

Bull Sculpture at Formula One World Championship, Rd9, Austrian Grand Prix, Preparations, Spielberg, Austria, Thursday 6 July 2017.

Valtteri Bottas secured his second victory in his Formula 1 career and he achieved it with the same way as he won his first Grand Prix, by starting from the pole and defending his position from Sebastian Vettel, who finished second.

A perfect start allowed to the Finn to remain first and despite Ferrari’s and Vettel’s acquisitions for a jump start, the stewards didn’t take any further action. After lights out, Kimi Raikkonen had a poor start which cost him two positions, the Finn dropped down to fifth and both Daniel Ricciardo and Romain Grosjean moved up one place. Ricciardo had a great pace during the race and scored another podium which gave points for his team.

Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso retired after the start of the race after a collision with the Toro Rosso. Kvyat lost his breaks and collided on Alonso which cost the race to the Spaniard and Daniil had to pit for a new nose.

Lewis Hamilton started eighth, after the five-place grid penalty who received because his mechanics had to change his gearbox on Saturday. The Britt, had a good start and moved up to the fifth position behind Kimi Raikkonen. Lewis was struggling to pass Kimi and remained behind him until the 45th lap, Kimi pitted and re-joined behind Hamilton.

The three-time world champion lost time behind Raikkonen, Ferrari decided to waste Raikkonen’s chances for a place on the podium as they were seeing that it was very difficult to close to Red Bull for the third place. Raikkonen’s excellent drive didn’t allow to Hamilton to take advantage of his super-softs tyres and forced the Brit to pit on lap 33.

When Hamilton re-joined with the ultra-softs he was struggling with his tyres and could not follow the leaders. Mainly he was unable to close the gap with Ricciardo.

Everything changed during the final laps, Lewis Hamilton closed with Daniel Ricciardo and was looking for a space to make his move. At the same time, Sebastian Vettel with the super-softs was less than a second behind Bottas.

Red Bull Ring, Spielberg, Austria.
Friday 07 July 2017.
World Copyright: Andy Hone/LAT Images
ref: Digital Image _ONY0445

Hamilton made his move, took the outside, but Ricciardo defended his place and remained third, it was Ricciardo’s fifth consecutive podium. Sebastian Vettel was on Botta’s tail, but didn’t have the chance to attack.

After 71 laps Valtteri Bottas took the second chequered flag of his F1 career, and scored 25 points. Whilst, Vettel scored six more points than Hamilton and increased his leading on the drivers’ championship to 20 points from Lewis Hamilton.

Very good race for Romain Grosjean, the French passed Raikkonen in the beginning but lost the fifth place a few laps later, at the end he finished sixth and scored crucial points for Haas.

Williams, despite their poor qualification, managed to finish in the top 10, Felipe Massa finished ninth, while his team-mate finished tenth and scored one point.

The next race will take place at Silverstone in one week.

Twitter: @FP_Passion

(Image Courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media)