24 April 2019
Honda ups the game
Honda will introduce its first upgraded engine of the 2019 Formula 1 season at this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. The positive thing is that the Red Bulls and Toro Rossos will likely be more reliable and will see “a slight improvement” in engine performance, the downside is that switching to a second spec engine this early in the season means that the two teams will likely have to take grid penalties later in the year, as they are allowed only three internal combustion engines.
The upgrade will certainly help the cars be more competitive on the fast Baku circuit, but rival manufacturers will take a step forward in a month or so - probably in Canada - where they will take their second power units - if all goes well. However, Honda believes that this is the right strategy after a problem was discovered with Daniil Kvyat’s engine in China, which was deemed to be “a quality control issue”. The engines today are designed to survive for seven races but will now be required to last for nine if the teams are to avoid penalties. However, Honda is no doubt keen to get extra performance in an effort to score better results and so it is a risk that is probably worth taking. With three races gone, Mercedes has 130 points, compared to Red Bull’s 52 and Toro Rosso’s four.
Thus far the four Red Bull cars have finished all the races, with the exception of Kvyat in China, which was retired with collision damage. This shows that reliability is strong and that performance is thus the priority, even if there is a risk of future penalties. In the case of Toro Rosso this was already the case as both drivers were already on their second engines because of Kvyat’s reliability problem in practice in Shanghai and Alexander Albon’s crash.
It will be interesting to see whether there is any noticeable improvement in performance in Baku, where straight-line speed is important on what is now the longest straight in F1, with the cars running at full throttle for around 24 seconds This must be balanced with the twisty sections where good aero performance is needed.