Max Verstappen won this month’s Austrian Grand Prix to give the Red Bull-Honda partnership its first victory together, and should have finished on the podium in the British Grand Prix but was wiped out by Sebastian Vettel.
Verstappen thought he could have fought for pole at Silverstone, where Red Bull has traditionally had a major deficit in the V6 turbo-hybrid era, without a turbo lag issue.
That was brought on by Verstappen trying to get on the throttle too quickly for the engine to handle without a discrepancy, a legacy of the Red Bull car improvements that have brought it closer to the two top teams.
Honda F1 technical director Toyoharu Tanabe admitted he was surprised to be so closer to the leading pace at Silverstone and said it could suggest the Red Bull-Honda package is not as far from Mercedes as it thought.
“Maybe, but we need to understand which corner or which straight we have a better lap time or speed,” Tanabe told Motorsport.com. “Then maybe we can analyse what is good here and what was wrong, what was the deficit in the past seven or eight races.
“It’s not very easy to tell, it looks like the gap got closer compared to previous races – not only the race, but also qualifying. But we have not an easy answer yet.”
Verstappen’s victory in Austria was recognised as a success on merit but played down simultaneously, as Mercedes was hurt by cooling problems.
Red Bull has been restricted to sniping for occasional victories in the V6 turbo-hybrid engine era, as Renault’s engine deficit left the team too far adrift at power-sensitive circuits.
However, Honda has made progress throughout the season and also believes its recently-introduced Spec 3 engine – which came with a small power increase – has improved at each of the three grands prix it has been used in.
“The starting point was not too bad compared to last year’s first race with the new spec,” said Tanabe. “It means we’ve learned a lot from last year, and the calibration quality we improved from the initial running. We still have areas to learn at the track after the race.
“In practice situations and real race situations. we could learn a small bit where we could improve our performance. In France, Austria, Britain, we have an improvement.”
Red Bull Racing RB15 of Max Verstappen in the garage
Photo by: Giorgio Piola