Brazil triumph sees Honda targeting 2021 F1 extension

Honda’s success at the Brazilian Grand Prix has raised hopes that the Japanese manufacturer will remain in the sport and extend its current contract with Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso.

Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly finished in first and second place respectively at Interlagos using Honda engines.

Verstappen took his maiden career F1 pole in Hungary with Honda power, and followed that up with his second in Brazil. Prior to that, Verstappen won in Germany with Daniil Kvyat also on the podium,.

It’s all a far cry from Honda’s initial return to F1 in 2015 and its deeply disappointing three-year partnership with McLaren. Honda started supplying power units to Toro Rosso in 2018, and to Red Bull at the start of this year.

Honda’s rapid rate of success in 2019 is thanks to dramatically improved speed and reliability. It has been well beyond expectations and may head-off the threat of Honda’s management deciding to pull its plug on the whole F1 project.

“To take a third win this season is a great result for everyone at Honda and Aston Martin Red Bull Racing,” said Honda F1 technical director Toyoharu Tanabe.

“The car-PU package worked very well with both our teams and that has to be a good sign for the final race of the season and when we look ahead to next year,” he added.

Tanabe pointed out that the success in Brazil significantly came on the anniversary of the birth of the company’s founder, Soichiro Honda. “I hope this result has a positive impact on our future.”

Honda’s chief engineer for Toro Rosso, Masamitsu Motohashi, was also delighted by the outcome of Sunday’s race. “This is a great reward for all the hard work,” he said.

“Really, I am lost for words. This is our second podium of the year with Toro Rosso, which is a wonderful achievement and it puts them in a very strong position to finish at least sixth in the Championship.

Pierre Gasly (FRA) Scuderia Toro Rosso celebrates his third position on the podium.

“We have worked with Pierre for the past two seasons now and so this is a great result in what was in some ways a difficult year for him.

“Our congratulations go to him and our friends at Toro Rosso and let’s not forget that Daniil also managed to finish in the points,” he added. “This is a great boost for the team, but we must now aim to do even better next year.”

And now it looks like Red Bull and Honda are hoping to extend their relationship beyond the end of next season and into 2021 when new rules and regulations will overhaul the sport’s sporting and technical landscape.

Dutch newspaper De Limburger reported that Red Bull motorsports consultant Dr Helmut Marko had flown direct from Brazil to Japan to take care of the final stages of detailed negotiations over a contract extension.

The report said that “sources in the paddock know that a deal to deliver engines in 2021 is also in the works,” adding: “The Japanese would like to announce the news in Abu Dhabi, where the last race of the season will be held in two weeks.”

Without a new agreement, Honda would almost certainly quit the sport at the end of next season – and significantly scale back its investment in research and development before that.

An extension of the collaboration [would be] especially good news for Red Bull Racing,” reported the newspaper. “[But] an early announcement of a departure from Honda from Formula 1 would mean that Max Verstappen’s title ambitions for 2020 are dead and buried.

“In that case, Honda would close the money tap and put the development on a low fire. For Verstappen it might also be the signal to move to another team in 2021. That threat is much less if Honda remains in Formula 1.”

Masashi Yamamoto (JPN) Honda Racing F1 Managing Director.

If Red Bull and Honda do extend their partnership, BBC pundit and former Renault driver Jolyon Palmer predicts that Red Bull and Honda could be serious title contenders as soon as 2020.

“If Red Bull can do what they’ve so far failed to do in the hybrid era – start the following season as competitive as they finish the last – then the Verstappen/Red Bull/Honda package could be a force to be reckoned with in 2020,” Palmer wrote in his regular analysis for BBC Sport.

“For Honda in particular, [Brazil] was a moment that must have caused such joy,” Palmer continued. “In truth, Honda were poor back in 2015. They took a lot of stick, but the unreliability and lack of performance were clear for all to see.

“Four years later, they are back with two drivers on the same podium,” he added. “Just pure ecstatic emotion. A complete turnaround.

“Honda were dragged through the mud during the Alonso and McLaren years, but since teaming up with Toro Rosso last year, and now Red Bull in 2019, their performance improvements have been vast.

“Not only did Honda get a one-two, but they achieved the second place in the best manner possible for an engine manufacturer – a drag race to the line, against the formerly dominant Mercedes power.

“With the regulations staying stable for 2020, there should be every chance that Red Bull can challenge [for the title] over the course of [next] season.”

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Palmer and Villeneuve criticise use of new 'yellow card'

F1’s decision to reintroduce the mothballed black-and-white driver standards flag as a ‘yellow card’ first warning during races has been criticised by two former drivers, following the way it was used in the Italian Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc was on the receiving end of it after his block on Lewis Hamilton going into the second chicane on lap 23 send the Mercedes into the run-off escape road.

But former Renault driver Jolyon Palmer felt that using the warning flag in this fashion had allowed the race director to be too light on Leclerc. In Palmer’s view, Leclerc should have received a time penalty for his actions.

“In my view, the decision was clear-cut,” he wrote in his regular column for BBC Sport. “Much as I didn’t want to see a penalty, as it would have inevitably ruined the race, the rules are the rules.

“They must be adhered to for the good of the sport over the entertainment factor of the show,” he continued. “You can’t do it because everyone wants to see a more balanced [race] for the remaining 30 minutes.

“I found it extremely uncomfortable watching Masi trying to explain the situation after the race,” he added.

“The revival of the black-and-white warning flag … means drivers are potentially allowed to commit one offence in a race and get away with it. What sort of racing is that going to produce? And how is that ethical or fair?”

Race winner Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF90 is congratulated in parc ferme by third placed Lewis Hamilton

Former world champion Jacques Villeneuve had a similar view of the situation.

“It’s like being allowed to do a stupid action in the race,” Villeneuve told Motorsport-Magazin.

“They’re going to start abusing it soon – depending on whether the yellow card is transferred to the next race, in which case of course the driver won’t have that option.”

“When [Leclerc] made the move before the second chicane, at the most dangerous place, if that was on another track – or if it was another driver – that move would normally have been a penalty.

“You have to judge him the same way as any other driver and this Sunday he did ‘a Magnussen’, that’s the truth,” he added. “He knew he could risk it, so he played with the limits and it worked for him.”

Mercedes principal Toto Wolff was also unhappy with the new yellow card system and agreed it could end up making drivers more reckless.

“I think more cars will be touching and it will be more of a common practice,” he said this week. “My opinion is that it will end up in a collision.”

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