Honda admit engine was 'on the edge' during Verstappen's Austria victory
Max Verstappen’s victory in Austria was significant enough on its own as it ended Mercedes’ perfect run in 2019 – but it ended an even longer wait for Honda.
The Japanese manufacturer is the only new entrant since the current power unit regulations were introduced, returning to Formula 1 in 2015. Melbourne 2019 saw the first podium since that return, and at the Red Bull Ring, a Honda-powered car won for the first time since 2006, with F1 Technical Director Toyoharu Tanabe sent up to the podium to collect the constructors’ trophy.
“I’m very happy to see Max’s strong race,” he said after the race. “Just after the race start I was a bit surprised and then got nervous. After that his pace was good, very good. In the middle of the race I started to believe we could go to a higher position. Then, finally, Max finished the race in first place, and it was a fantastic day.
“I was surprised when I was told to go [to the podium],” he added. “I had no idea what I should do and that’s why I got to the podium later than other people. Normally you need to stay before the National Anthem – I thought I should be there for that but I was a bit late. But I joined after that. This was my first time – I was worried about what to do and no one told me!”
We were strong, but for the next race, I cannot guarantee we’ll be a strong as in Austria
The Honda victory came in a race where Mercedes were forced to run their power unit conservatively due to overheating concerns, and Tanabe was not expecting Honda to show such a high level of performance.
“We were on the edge on terms of cooling,” he said. “Of course, the high temperatures forced us to save the power unit. We tried to extract as much power as we could.
“I did not [expect to be competitive] like this, be so strong. From the previous races we could see a very strong Mercedes but sometimes we could compete with Ferrari. Differently, we showed the strongest performance against them, so I’m a bit surprised.”
There were tearful celebrations on Sunday night in Austria – but with Mercedes having won the first eight races of the season, Tanabe is already turning his attentions to closing the gap further to the championship leaders.
“Of course this result encourages the members of our development team, but from the beginning of the season we could really see a big gap to Mercedes and Ferrari. In Austria it was okay; we were strong, but for the next race, I cannot guarantee we’ll be a strong as [Sunday], that we’ll have the same competitiveness compared with the others.
“It means we need to keep pushing very hard, to get the confidence that we are strong and that when we’ll make no mistakes we will win. We want to have that level and need to keep pushing."