Horner hails 'beyond expectation' first season with Honda

Race winner Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing celebrates with Toyoharu Tanabe (JPN) Honda Racing F1 Technical Director; Masashi Yamamoto (JPN) Honda Racing F1 Managing Director; and Christian Horner (GBR) Red Bull Racing Team Principal.
© XPB 

When Red Bull Racing announced that it was splitting from engine supplier Renault and moving to Honda in 2019, many in the paddock expected the team to fall flat on its face.

Honda had only just ended a disastrous three-year partnership with McLaren, who finished the 2017 season last-but-one in the constructors championship.

While Red Bull boss Christian Horner always had confidence in the Japanese manufacturer to come good this year, even he's surprised by how quickly the success had come for the new alliance.

"The partnership with Honda has worked tremendously well," Horner told Autosport magazine this week. "From the first race and the podium in Melbourne."

This season saw a maiden pole for Max Verstappen in Hungary followed by a second at Interlagos, and wins for the team in Austria, Germany and Brazil.

“This really has been beyond expectation," Horner said. “The three pole positions - albeit we only kept two of them! - and three victories. Nine podiums is a really impressive performance this year."

Horner agreed that he'd expected the changeover from Renault to Honda to hold back the team initially, but that this hadn't proved to be the case.

“It was always going to be [a transitionary year for the team], the first engine change we’ve had in 13 years, he admitted. But Honda had stepped up the plate in all areas.

"The reliability, the performance increased with each engine, it's been very much a highlight," Horner said.

"With each engine introduction we’ve got closer and closer to the pace," he added. “Reliability has been been strong, we've only had one mechanical DNF this year in Azerbaijan."

And with the rules remaining little changed over the winter ahead of a comprehensive review for 2021, Horner saw no reason why this year's success couldn't be sustained into the next campaign.

"With stability of the regulations going into 2020 hopefully we can be the challenger team next year," he suggested. "We've developed the car well this year. I think Honda have done a great job with each each introduction on the on the power unit.

Red Bull Racing and Honda flags.

"But we know there's still a gap to close to Mercedes, and we have to keep pushing," he cautioned. Mercedes has had another very strong year, very much the benchmark still.

"[But] it feels like we're definitely getting closer."

Honda F1 director Toyoharu Tanabe was also delighted with how the first season supplying engines to Red Bull as well as its sister team Toro Rosso had gone.

"This was our first year in the hybrid era working with two teams, with whom we communicated very well, allowing us to make a solid step forward," he noted.

"That progress is reflected in our three wins with Red Bull and two podiums with Toro Rosso.

"This has been an encouraging year, but what we achieved this season is not yet where we want to be, so we will keep pushing to improve.”

Honda recently announced an extension to its contract to supply engines to both teams, taking them into 2021. However their parent company is yet to decide about Honda's long term commitment to F1 amid concerns abot the cost of developing the power units.

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