Honda’s steady progress in 2019 undoubtedly played a big part in Max Verstappen’s long term F1 contract extension.
Last season the Japanese engine manufacturer Honda, which equips Red Bull Racing and Alpha Tauri (was Toro Rosso), helped both teams to podium finishes and even three victories for Red Bull with Max Verstappen.
According to observers, the difference in power between the Honda engine and the Ferrari V6 hybrid at the start of the year was around 50 horsepower and this difference dropped to just ten horsepower by the end of the season, although these figures are only indications due to the secrecy surrounding the power units in F1.
Still, the Honda engine is probably the fastest growing engine in a single year (sorry McLaren, the fastest growing team for 2019 – look what could’ve been), especially after the introduction of a final engine upgrade at Monza, namely the Spec 4, which allowed the Japanese firm to get significantly closer to Mercedes and Ferrari.
For the 2020 season, the Honda engine should gain even more power and Helmut Marko is already warning Red Bull’s competitors: “If the others want to become even stronger, then they will have to develop considerably. ” warns Helmut Marko, quoted by Germany’s AMUS.
For Helmut Marko, Honda’s progress in 2019 has undoubtedly played a big part in the Dutch driver’s signing, who now knows what to expect for 2020, 2021 and possibly beyond… but perhaps still the biggest question remains Honda’s commitment.
“Max [Verstappen] knows exactly what is going on at Honda. He’s already seen the new car and he’s happy to continue in the team. At the end of the day there was a common desire on his part and ours. ” says Marko.
Auto Bild report that Marko’s reasoning to push Verstappen into a long term deal was the treat of losing Max to Mercedes.
“I was very worried about losing Max to Mercedes in 2021.” says Marko
And the deal was significant in favour of Verstappen’s wallet, the Dutchman set to earn at least 60 million euros by the end of 2023 as reported from inside sources, and could reach 40 million per year with performance bonuses.
Marko doesn’t usually dip his hand into the Red Bull coffers so easily, the Red Bull brand renowned for getting lowest driver salary for a top team by employing Red Bull young drivers and promoting them internally rather than shopping from other teams.
So why the big money? I assure you, it’s not just about losing Verstappen to Mercedes, and Marko hints at the real reason in his concluding statement published by Auto Bild by saying:
“At the moment we have that with Honda. I am also optimistic that they will continue.”
The fact is, there is real concern about Honda and their desire to remain in Formula 1. Indeed TJ13 reported some time ago that Honda’s commitment to Red Bull and F1 up until 2021 was strangely not celebrated by the manufacturer when it was announced in November 2019. It was just Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso that gave the announcement it’s normal pomp and circumstance. Not Honda themselves…
— Aston Martin Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) November 27, 2019
“There was no press release, not a word was said about the period after 2021, so a high-ranking figure within F1 describes the overall strategy as ‘bizarre’.” describes Racefan’s Dieter Rencken in an article questioning the weird announcement.
According to Rencken, a source within Honda says that this lack of clarity of message is driven by ‘uncertainty around the motor industry’ and the cost of the Honda F1 project.
So really it’s a clear message of intent by Red Bull in saying to Max that he needs to commit to their team in order for Honda to stay onboard. Honda admits that Verstappen is their new ‘poster boy’, and who can blame them – after all, it was the Dutchman who scored those victories, the first in over a decade for Honda.
But will it be enough? It’s unlikely… the trend toward electric vehicles is causing a seismic shift in F1 manufacturers’ budget allowance and we’re already seeing Mercedes, Renault and Honda starting to question the validity of continuing in a totally un-relevant form of motorsport. I highly recommend reading this article on that subject.
And if Honda does leave F1, sooner than Verstappens contract, there are clauses in the Dutchmans’ contract that will allow him to leave for better pastures ahead of 2024.
“Red Bull must guarantee the Dutchman a competitive engine” says Auto Bild, otherwise Verstappen is free to go. Quite what precisely that means is unknown, but rest assured if Honda go, then so does Verstappen.