Steiner: F1 in false sense of normality, then Honda quit

Haas team boss Guenther Steiner says Formula 1 is “very good at forgetting very quick”, but Honda reminded the sport of its flaws.

That main flaw for Steiner revolves around the complexity of the technology in Formula 1, and the fact that Honda will be able to walk away from the sport clean at the end of 2021.

Arguably Formula 1 has never faced a challenge like the COVID-19 pandemic, but Steiner thinks the next big change ahead for the sport is to stop falling into the trap of thinking everything is back to normal too quickly.

Honda announcing that they would leave Formula 1 at the end of 2021 was the perfect reminder.

“Instead of just trying to always get the last bit out of technology and everything, we should also make sure that we have got a sustainable business and not only a sustainable technology,” Steiner is quoted by GPFans.

“Why would you run a normal business with this big risk that somebody can just get out of a contract without doing anything?

“I think we need always to be aware of that and I think we have got a lot more aware of it, but we are very good in forgetting very quick, because all of a sudden, everything is good again.

“We are back racing, okey dokey, let’s go racing, everything will be like it was before. Not always, that will not happen.”

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Currently Honda are the only engine manufacturer to have pulled out, leaving Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault for 2022 and beyond.

But Steiner wouldn’t be surprised to see others follow Honda out of the door, comparing the present time to the global financial crisis which caused Honda to exit the sport at the end of the 2008 season.

“I think we need to be aware that this happens any day with anybody,” he explained.

“You need to think back, I don’t know if it was 2008, 2009 when three manufacturers pulled out. From one day to the other, Formula 1 was a different world.

“We don’t have to forget what happened this March. A pandemic came along and all of a sudden, we were in a bad spot, all of us.

“But we keep on forgetting that this thing can happen in Formula 1. This is not an essential business.

“Each company can decide to pull out any day. As much as we’re surprised, we shouldn’t be surprised because again, this can happen tomorrow.”

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Honda boss says Verstappen 'is like seeing Senna'

Honda F1 managing director Masashi Yamamoto says that Max Verstappen is a key part of the company’s hopes and plans for its future in Formula 1.

The 22-year-old Dutch driver has been a sensation since joining the sport in 2015, initially with Toro Rosso and subsequently promoted to the senior Red Bull team.

In 102 starts so far, Verstappen has picked up eight race victories with his current team, including three in 2019 after the switch from Renault to Honda engines. Last year also saw him claim his maiden F1 pole position in Hungary, with a repeat later in the year at Brazil.

It’s led Yamamoto to compare Verstappen to a three-time world champion and icon of the sport, Ayrton Senna.

“He’s young, but his driving is really impressive,” he told Motorsport.com this week. “It looks like seeing a young Senna, with his relationship with Honda.”

That relationship between driver and manufacturer and driver has already grown to be a strong and close one in the last 12 months.

“Max maybe pays respect to Honda, he feels Honda is familiar,” suggested Yamamoto. “The [Honda] badge he showed on the podium in Austria proved that he was very happy as well.

“[That means] we want to provide a good engine for him,” he said, adding hurriedly in case there should be any doubt: “Of course, all the four drivers are very important for us

“He also has been to the F1 R&D centre and our mass production site,” he continued. “There’s many, many people and he has actually seen it. He went through a tunnel of people getting high fives, like one kilometre long!

Masashi Yamamoto (JPN) Honda Racing F1 Managing Director.

“The passion we showed towards winning made the relationship stronger with him,” Yamamoto insisted. “That kind of thing maybe gave him a stronger impression about Honda, and a stronger commitment to Honda.

“As Honda, we see him as a very important factor with Honda’s project,” he summarised.

Honda’s performance is certainly hugely improved since the dark time of its troubled three-year partnership with McLaren from 2015 until 2017. The current Honda 1.6 V6T power unit was seen as the most improved engine on the grid last season, possibly now even a match for those from Mercedes and Ferrari.

It’s possible that Verstappen could be in the title mix in 2020, and that Red Bull itself could be contending for the constructors championship that it last won in 2013 with Sebastian Vettel.

The amount of money being poured into the F1 project had raised questions about whether the parent business might pull the plug on the endeavour. But Honda confirmed recently that it will definitely continue to supply engines to Red Bull and Toro Rosso until at least the end of 2021.

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Honda wants input from personnel to improve operations

Honda has sought input from its trackside engineers and the mechanics working on both of its customer teams to help improve its operations next year.

As a supplier to Red Bull Racing and sister team Toro Rosso, the Japanese manufacturer made spectacular progress over the 2019 season, elevating the performance and reliability of its power unit to levels comparable with those of its Ferrari and Mercedes rivals.

However, ramping up its supply deal in F1 from one team to two required the deployment of additional resources and operational changes.

Regarding the latter, Honda tech boss Toyoharu Tanabe believes improvements can be achieved for 2020, and the Japanese engineer is relying on his personnel for feedback.

“It was challenging, of course,” Tanabe told Motorsport.com. “More staff here, more engines here. So far everything went reasonably well for both teams.

“I asked the engineers and the mechanics here, ‘What can we do for next year? Please review what we did this year. What was a concern, what was a problem, in terms of the trackside management?’.

“Then we can make a list, discuss it internally, discuss with the R&D department, and then bring the idea for next year.”

©Honda

While Toro Rosso served as a veritable development laboratory for Red Bull in 2018, allowing the Milton Keynes-based outfit to deliver three wins to itself and Honda this season, Tanabe-san insists that both are now treated equally in terms of engine development and allocated resources.

“We support the two teams equally – engine specification, the number of engineers and mechanics, the scale, all equal,” he said.

“When we started this year, we mixed the people [from 2018] and then brought extra support to make the same [level in both teams].

“We’ll keep the same style, for next year and always.”

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Horner: Honda the first supplier to keep promises

Christian Horner says that, for the first time, his team have an engine supplier who delivers on what they promise in Honda.

Red Bull enjoyed a successful first season with the Japanese manufacturer, winning three races and having better power and reliability than they previously had with Renault.

“Obviously we saw an awful lot of spreadsheets over the years, from Viry [Renault’s engine headquarters] but never realised the potential of what was on those sheets,” Horner told Motorsport.com.

“This is the first year where everything that was promised was absolutely delivered. And it’s just a different environment, it’s a different type of partnership.

“It’s a true partnership, and you can see what it means to Honda when they get a result, when they get a pole position and they get a victory; the emotion, the pride, the satisfaction throughout the whole business.

“So I think it’s a very, very different relationship to the one we previously had with Renault during this V6 turbo-hybrid era.”

Horner and Red Bull constantly fell out with Renault in the latter years of their deal, and the team principal says that a harmonious partnership free of fighting is key to the team’s improved fortunes with Honda.

“We’ve achieved three poles on the track this year [Verstappen lost his pole in Mexico to a grid penalty], we’ve won three races,” Horner added.

“We could have won arguably in Monaco, we should have won in Mexico. Austin we were quick. So we’ve had a really good race car a lot of circuits this year.

“The progression from Honda, with each engine that they’ve introduced and together with our fuel partner, the whole thing is working in harmony.

“So rather than to get fighting, always feeling very much as a customer, it’s been a true partnership. And they share the same goals and objectives as we do. You’re seeing the benefits of that.”

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Verstappen: I ‘love’ working with Honda

Max Verstappen says he “loves” working with Honda due to their attention to detail, all the way down to their “stickers and wires”.

After supplying the power units for junior team Toro Rosso in 2018, Honda stepped up to also supply the main Red Bull team for 2019.

It’s safe to say that it was a successful campaign with Verstappen claiming three wins, while Honda suffered no race-day engine failures during the campaign.

The Dutchman has his eyes set on challenging for the Drivers’ Championship in 2020, and he has total confidence that the Red Bull-Honda partnership can deliver.

“I think it went very well,” he said when asked by Autosport.com how he felt the first season with Honda went.

“The beginning is always guessing what they’re going to bring throughout the year, but I think they’ve made some really big improvements.

“What was very important compared to what we have before was the reliability.

“This year, we’ve never retired because of a Honda issue. If you want to fight for a World Championship, that is what you need.

“So I am very, very impressed with the way they are working.

“I really love working with them because they are people of not too many words – and that’s exactly like me! But very focused on what they have to do.

“I just really, really enjoy working with them. They are very professional.

“It’s also about how the wires connect on to the engine, the stickers matching the other stickers, for what is connected on the engine [going] to the wire, which is then connecting that [next bit].

“It’s little things, but for me, it’s so important. It’s the detail, attention to detail, which needs to be there.”

The introduction of Honda’s Spec 4 engine in 2019 caused issues for Verstappen due to the grid penalties it triggered, but he thinks the performance boost it gave made it worthwhile.

“Especially the Spec 4, we knew that was going to be a big step,” he said.

“I just kept asking, ‘can we have it already, can we have it already?’. It was a good step forward.

“They just keep pushing very hard to try and bring the improvements and there is no limit.

“They will do everything for it.”

Verstappen would finish the 2019 campaign P3 in the Championship, making it his best season in F1, while he also topped qualifying on three occasions – the most of any Red Bull driver in the V6 turbo-hybrid era.

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Verstappen: 2020 title fight is the goal

After a solid first season with Honda power, Max Verstappen says next season’s goal is to for the World title.

Red Bull teamed up with Honda at the start of this season, taking three race wins in their first season together.

It was an impressive showing from the Japanese manufacturer who not only made inroads on rivals’ engines but also largely conquered their reliability gremlins.

Verstappen finished the championship a career-high P3.

“It was promising and I think we have achieved pretty good results,” he told autobahn.eu.

“I personally thought reliability was the most important. It was very high throughout the year and we also made a lot of progress with the engine itself.

“So it went well.

“The basis for next year is there.

“We have learned a lot throughout the year and I think we will have a positive start to the next season.”

Asked whether the championship title was the goal, he replied: “Yes, I hope I can just participate in the final victory. That’s the goal.”

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Gains becoming ‘harder’ to find for Honda

Honda’s Formula 1 technical director Toyoharu Tanabe admits that as they improve as an engine manufacturer, big gains are becoming “harder” to find.

Honda returned to F1 as an engine supplier in 2015, but after three torrid years with McLaren they joined forces with Toro Rosso for 2018.

But it was in 2019 where they took a big step forward as the supplier of both Toro Rosso and Red Bull, helping Max Verstappen to three race wins and Toro Rosso to two podium finishes.

Most notable were their gains in straight-line speed, evidenced by the drag race to line between Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and Lewis Hamilton in Brazil, which was won by Gasly.

However, the downside of these gains is that Honda must now work “harder” and be more “precise” to keep on improving.

Speaking to RACER, Tanabe said: “We could show our improvement, our good positive progress this year, not only with Red Bull but also Toro Rosso.

“It was very nice for all the people working for this project and people in Honda. So I want to keep this momentum for next year. The development for next year has already started. And then we need to push more to achieve our goal.

“I think it’s harder than previous years. We need to be precise in every single area, in terms of hardware, also software and then trackside management as well. So, we keep pushing. The PU means the ICE, MGU-H and K, and all the systems, water and oil. Also tools, software, we have a lot of things to do. But a big step? Maybe that’s getting difficult.”

Honda’s F1 return was marred by the dreadful reliability of their power units, but 2019 marked a clear step forward in this department.

Despite this though Tanabe believes there were still PU issues at various stages in race weekends and they can’t be ignored.

“We achieved no Sunday race failures to stop the car,” he explained.

“It was good for us. But like (Verstappen’s) situation (in Abu Dhabi), we still have not a stoppage, but we still have an area to improve. Also we had some issues in practice. So we need to clean up everything from the race weekend.”

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Five biggest success stories of F1 2019

Continuing to reflect on the F1 2019 season, we pick out what we feel are the five biggest success stories to come from another eventful campaign.

Mercedes

Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way early, shall we? The juggernaut that is Mercedes somehow reached even greater heights in 2019 with a car that was not necessarily the fastest on the grid this year.

But, while Red Bull continue to only show their potential in short, sharp bursts over a season and Ferrari continue to find new ways to shoot themselves in the foot, Mercedes didn’t even need to be at the absolute peak of their powers to continue their domination of the turbo hybrid era.

They are truly in a class of their own now after becoming the first ever team to win six consecutive Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles and, after winning another 15 races this year, the Silver Arrows have now won 89 out of 121 races since 2014. A win percentage of 73.6%.

Love them or hate them, you still have to respect their incredible achievements and you very much suspect there will be more of that to come next year, especially when Lewis Hamilton is still in the car.

Charles Leclerc

While 2019 represented another missed opportunity for Ferrari to end their title drought, the continued rise of Charles Leclerc should give the Scuderia’s long-suffering fans a big reason to be optimistic for the future.

Ferrari’s initial expectation of Leclerc this year was to play second fiddle to Sebastian Vettel, who was going to be given preferential treatment in 50-50 scenarios, whilst the 22-year-old found his feet in making the big jump up from Sauber to Ferrari. He wasn’t having any of it.

Part of the disruption and chaos caused at Ferrari has simply been down to the fact that Leclerc is super quick. The implemented team orders immediately came into question in the first race of the season and he could have easily been a winner in only in his second race had engine trouble not cruelly taken it away from him.

As the season progressed, Leclerc has developed a taste for that winning feeling whilst continuing to show that he should at the very least be considered an equal to Vettel.

Leclerc is by no means perfect and still has a lot to work on himself but, in his very first season with Ferrari, he has undoubtedly shown that he is their star driver now for many years to come.

McLaren

Away from those on the top rungs of the Formula 1 ladder, McLaren are heading in the right direction and climbing closer towards joining the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari.

Of course, there is still a long way to go before we start using ‘McLaren’ and ‘title contenders’ in the same sentence but the 2019 campaign, which ended with a ‘best of the rest’ finish, was a fitting reward for putting their own house back in order.

In the past few seasons McLaren did become victims of their own hype and, as the poor results continued, they were in a far from ideal situation where they had a driver in Fernando Alonso who was bigger than the team itself.

Now McLaren are a lot more grounded, perfectly exemplified with their video of looking all over for the keys to their trophy cabinet following the podium finish in Brazil, and their new driver line-up of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris.

Both drivers have been a breath of fresh air not just for McLaren, but for Formula 1 in general, too, and there is a real sense now that everyone is collectively working for the good of the team and the political games are over.

Honda

We cannot mention McLaren without also giving props to Honda, the other jilted partner involved in the messy relationship with the Woking team that ended in an abrupt yet inevitable divorce.

In the space of four years they have gone from having a GP2 engine by Alonso’s standards to one that has delivered three pole positions (Ok, officially two because of Max Verstappen’s blatant disregard for safety in Mexico) and three race victories in 2019.

The transformation from laughing stock and the butt of everyone’s jokes to being on the cusp of genuine title contenders with Red Bull in a relatively short amount of time in Formula 1 years deserves to be applauded, especially when there has probably been a strong temptation to pack it all in and focus on other projects instead.

Red Bull obviously deserve credit too for having faith in the Japanese manufacturer and gradually implementing them within the team by giving them Toro Rosso to use as test guinea pigs. But, Honda deserve their own entry for the progress made on their own path to redemption.

George Russell

You can easily make a case for any of the three rookies to feature in here as Alex Albon, Lando Norris and Russell have all provided their own success stories this season.

But Albon got his rightful recognition by winning ‘Rookie of the Year’ at the FIA Prize Giving Gala for his meteoric rise up through the ranks when Formula 1 was not even an option for him a little over year ago, and barely a race weekend went by without Norris getting praised – if he wasn’t entertaining us on the track then he certainly was off it.

Given the continued rotten form of Williams, it has been easier for Russell to perhaps slip a little more under the radar compared to the other two rookies who have been in cars that can help showcase their talent more.

It’s very rare that you would single out a driver who has a grand total of zero World Championship points to his name, but that is an unfair reflection on the season that the young Brit has had.

He was well and truly thrown in at the deep end starting his Formula 1 career at Williams when they are at one of their lowest points, but Russell has been a consummate professional throughout what has no doubt been an incredibly frustrating season for him and he convincingly beat his team-mate over the course of the season.

Even though the World Championship standings tell a different story, the actual truth is that he would have left a very good first impression with Mercedes as he continues to try and work his way up to one of those Silver Arrows seats.

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Honda thanks partners and fans after 'encouraging' year

Honda F1 boss Toyoharu Tanabe says the engine supplier enjoyed an “encouraging” year, thanks to the efforts of its team partners and members as well as the support of its many fans.

Honda secured its first wins of the hybrid era in 2019, courtesy of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen winning three races, in Austria, Germany and Brazil.

The Japanese signed off in Abu Dhabi with three of its drivers in the points at Yas Marina, much to Tanabe-san’s delight.

“Having one driver on the second step of the podium and three cars in the points was a good end to the season,” said the Honda engineer.

“Another strong performance from Max saw him do a good job of managing the tyres and he produced a fantastic passing move on Leclerc to take second place and he is now confirmed as third in the Drivers’ championship.

“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.

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

Honda’s spectacular progress was the result of a company-wide effort, but after achieving a performance break-through this year, Tanabe-san said the manufacturer is now focused on sustaining its forward march.

“I would like to thank both teams; those members working at the track and everyone back in the facilities in Japan, Italy and the UK, as well as our suppliers,” Tanabe-san added.

“We even had support from other departments within Honda, so the whole company played a part in our improved performance this year.

“I would also like to thank all the fans who have supported us.

“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.”

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Verstappen ‘never worried’ about Honda’s F1 future

Honda put the talk of them leaving F1 to bed for now by confirming they would supply Red Bull and Toro Rosso for 2021, but Max Verstappen was “never worried” about the rumours.

Verstappen ended Honda’s 13-year run without a victory in F1 when he won the Austrian Grand Prix. The Red Bull driver has added two further wins to that tally in 2019 and team principal Christian Horner believes Red Bull’s upturn in form has been crucial in Honda’s decision to stay.

Honda have also collected two podium finishes through Toro Rosso this season – Daniil Kvyat finished P3 in Germany while Pierre Gasly scored the team’s best finish since 2008 with P2 in Brazil.

Both teams can now prepare for the major overhaul to the regulations which is on its way for 2021 with Honda by their side, but Verstappen says he was “never worried” by the talk anyway.

“I was never worried about it,” he told Autosport.com.

“It was just trying to get the best out of what I have at the moment.

“I knew 2020 was happening anyway, but I was never really worried about [beyond that].

“Of course victories and podiums helped this year, for them to have the confidence and motivation to go further.

“Because if you don’t do that you’re really struggling and at one point a manufacturer will say ‘What’s the point of being in Formula 1?’.

“But I think this year Honda have made really big steps. Of course they had a tough time in the beginning when they joined F1 but they have learned a lot.

“I think they also get really excited. But as they said it’s not only about victories, it’s also costs and stuff.

“So I’m of course very happy that they’re staying on board.”

Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko believes the next big decision for Honda will come post-2021 when the FIA look to restrict engine development.

“There are still further talks for a possible agreement for 2022 and 2023,” Marko said in an interview with Red Bull-owned Servus TV.

“Then it will depend on how far the regulations allow a cost reduction.

“But the FIA has begun to recognise [this] and intends to freeze the engines from 2021, which means that further development will practically stagnate and then the costs will be drastically reduced once again.

“This is probably also a very decisive point for Honda, if it could come to another agreement.”

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