Red Bull finish off their engine partnership with the French manufacturer last weekend at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Renault says goodbye – hello Honda.
And already expectation has risen as the team now turn to the impending works outfit for Honda. The usual positive rhetoric from team bosses as already started this year, but yesterday Dr Helmut Marko took it one stage further by claiming that they’ll be at the front in 2019, challenging for the title.
Team boss Christian Horner was equally positive about the team’s prospects next year, buoyed by the impressive form of the car in 2018.
“We have a phenomenal team which can create a great car. As soon as we can get that little bit more horsepower, which it looks like Honda are delivering, then hopefully we can give them a hard time at every circuit,” says Horner.
“We have had a great car through this year. Our problem has been qualifying and straight-line performance. If we manage to address that, and all the numbers are looking encouraging, then it puts us in a stronger position.”
Dr Helmut Marko concurs with the party line, yesterday saying that he fully expects to be title contenders from the off next year.
“We have planning for the title. The Honda engine already has more horsepower than the Renault. And what’s coming should be enough so that we can be on our own in the front.”
No pressure then.
The bosses at Red Bull are correct, Toro Rosso has enjoyed increases in power from the updated Honda engines over this past season, with some impressive results, some of which were already better than all three seasons when Honda partnered McLaren.
Horner says that “We have been impressed by Honda’s commitment to F1, by the rapid steps they have made in recent times with our sister team Scuderia Toro Rosso, and by the scope of their ambition, which matches our own.”
But equally, Honda reliability has been just as abysmal as before. But yet Red Bull simply do not acknowledge this huge issue thinking that an increase in power will cure their main Achilles heel, qualifying.
Vettel still prefers Red Bull
Can Red Bull do it in 2019?
The big question will be, can the Honda engine keep up it’s power increases that are said to be already higher than Renaults, whilst maintaining any sort of reliability?
In answer to that question, Red Bull’s plans to win the title next year could be seen as laughable. Past evidence you may recall being Renaults failings during the switch to the hybrid engine formula in 2014.
The Red Bull car was not forgiving in the slightest with the cooling requirements of the then new Renault hybrid engine, and in winter testing the team were at crisis point with minimal running and plenty of smoke.
As it turned out, once the season started the team faired pretty well with some wins for Daniel Ricciardo, but crucially they were soon ruled out as title contenders due to the horrendous reliability problems. So it’s astonishing to think why the team bosses expect anything different next year with Honda.
The Red Bull car design will be focused on downforce and aero performance, with less forgiveness on cooling than Toro Rosso – cooling being aero efficiency’s biggest enemy.
Car concepts rarely change drastically over long periods of time. Anyone who will have read Adrian Newey’s excellent book ‘How to build a car’ will know that he can plot a direct lineage from the latest Red Bull back to the earliest cars of the 90’s. Now I’m not saying these cars are the same, but often the inherent concepts do remain.
Just look at the Mercedes of recent times, prone to eating it’s tyres – a trait first experienced way back in 2012 / 13, under a completely different set of regulations. And the team have battled that trait ever since. Just look at the barely legal rear wheel rim design that gave Lewis Hamilton the title this year, designed purely to remove the heat from the rear tyres as they increased the downforce required to beat Ferrari.
It would be an incredible feat if Honda and Red Bull collaborate well enough to combine the winning formula – power, downforce whilst maintaining cooling requirements.
Many people will be looking at the coming winter tests with the new cars next year, perhaps we’ll see images similar to this one below.