There are some who believe that Daniel Ricciardo left Red Bull because he didn’t buy into the team’s new Honda tie-up. That’s not a belief his current team mate Max Verstappen shares, however, as he revealed that he’s been impressed by the Japanese firm’s data so far.
Red Bull will switch to Honda power for 2019, ending over a decade of collaboration with Renault. Although the move was perceived as risky by many outsiders, given Honda’s well publicised difficulties since returning to F1 with McLaren in 2015, Red Bull stated that they’d been swayed by Honda’s improved performance in the back of the Toro Rosso this year, which has netted the team a highest finish of fourth in Bahrain, in the hands of Pierre Gasly.
We are targeting to be at least at the same level as where we are now at the beginning of the season, in terms of competitiveness
And as he now looks ahead to the 2019 season, Verstappen also revealed that he’d been encouraged by the numbers he’d seen from Honda up to now.
“I think it's very promising,” he said, referring to his team’s analysis of Toro Rosso’s data. “At the end of the day, Red Bull took the decision on the move to Honda power and of course now they start to work more and more closer together. But it's also difficult to say because of the car, to see the real performance in the engine in the wing levels and stuff.”
Verstappen stated recently that he expects the Red Bull/Toro Rosso partnership to be firing on all six proverbial cylinders by 2020 – but what was he hoping for during the first season of Austro-Japanese collaboration in 2019?
“For sure, we are targeting to be at least at the same level as where we are now at the beginning of the season, in terms of competitiveness,” he said. “And from there onwards, we just have to develop faster and push more. But at the moment I could say a lot of lovely stories but I don't know how it's going to pan out.”
With Daniel Ricciardo’s shock move to Renault for next year, Pierre Gasly got the nod to be promoted from Toro Rosso to drive alongside Verstappen, bringing with him a wealth of Honda knowledge, having used the Japanese firm’s power both at Toro Rosso and during his 2017 season in Japan’s Super Formula series.
That should make him a valuable asset to Red Bull, as they continue their hunt for their first title – drivers’ or constructors’ – since 2013.