19 questions for 2019: How will Red Bull-Honda partnership develop?
Motorsport Week's team of writers got together to discuss what they believe will be the big questions for the 2019 motorsport season, covering all the major series from Formula 1 to IndyCar, WEC to DTM and everything in-between. We'll be posting one each day and today we ask...
5/19: How will the Red Bull-Honda partnership develop?
When McLaren reunited with Honda it was all rainbows and unicorns. It was to be the partnership that would evoke memories of the late 1980s and in the process break Mercedes’ dominance of the hybrid era. We all know what happened next. McLaren was given a stark lesson in humility while a near-broken Honda operation sought refuge with Toro Rosso after almost pulling the plug on its programme.
Fewer than 18 months after that low point Honda now has a golden opportunity to shine with a team that harbours realistic title ambitions, has its house firmly in order, and which won four Grands Prix last year with a chassis it believes can beat anything.
Honda made strides through 2018, both in terms of reliability and performance, benefiting from the decision to split responsibilities in its organisation, enhanced by Toro Rosso’s willingness to embrace its Japanese counterpart. It is no longer a laughing stock. The respect has returned. But now it faces a steeper challenge: to win.
Red Bull and Honda are currently in the honeymoon phase – Red Bull finally freed from its marriage of convenience with a Renault brand it felt failed to deliver (and had no qualms criticising, with Renault in turn hardly shedding tears at losing a customer), while Honda is gleeful and honoured at a team of Red Bull’s size and stature placing its faith in its ability.
Short-term it is optimistic to expect the partnership to immediately gel and deliver the goods, for the chassis-engine integration is complex, and it faces stiff opposition in the form of Mercedes and Ferrari. But longer term both parties hold long-term title hopes and will be determined to make a success of their alliance.
Will Red Bull, and its drivers (particularly one of them) have the patience and the foresight to echo Toro Rosso’s approach to and respect of Honda, and conversely, can Honda make the next steps – arguably the most difficult – to prove that its power unit can fight it out among the best?