Take a stroll around the Red Bull Ring and there are a few things you will undoubtedly notice. One is how beautiful the place is, set among the Styrian mountains. The second is how hot it is. And the third is the sheer volume of orange both inside and outside the circuit.
Max Verstappen does not want for support at most races, but Austria is one where his fans travel in their droves. It’s an old-skool venue and many drive from the Netherlands, camping for the weekend right by the track, keen to cheer on their hero.
For Honda, it is the first time we get to feel the support of Verstappen’s Orange Army too, as we approach the mid-point of our first season in partnership with Red Bull Racing. With Max having enjoyed a stunningly consistent year to date, we took the somewhat brave decision to head out to the campsites around the track to find out what the Verstappen fans think of life so far at Red Bull Honda.
Peter Mantel: “When I heard Red Bull were going to go to Honda, I thought it was great, because I drive a Honda! No more broken engines! It felt like a good thing. After testing I thought it was OK. The engine is faster than last year’s engine, but Mercedes did a hell of a job. It’s a big gap still, and nobody foresaw that.”
Chiel Hesselink: “To be realistic, we understood it will take at least 12 months until Red Bull and Honda will be on a competing level.”
Gonnie D. Haarlem: “The Honda keeps running. If the reliability is there, then everybody at Honda can concentrate on improvement. It feels like a better starting point than last year.”
Amid a sea of tents, camper vans and even coaches - most of them decked out in orange in one way or another - the various fans point to the opening-race podium in Melbourne as a key moment in the year. One that provided confidence for the future.
Ruben Engelman: “When Red Bull changed and went to Honda, honestly I thought it was going to be bad because with McLaren it wasn’t that good and there were lots of retirements. But then when I saw pre-season testing and finishing on the podium in Melbourne it was better than I expected. They’ve got the reliability and now can work on the speed.”
Peter Mantel: “The podium in Australia was fun, Monaco was fun, and a steady stream of fourth places. He’s driving on another level. Really solid. Except for practice here, but it was windy and gusty - he’s allowed to do it in practice!”
Robin Kamphuis: “We went to pre-season testing, and maybe he can get a win or two. It looks like he will be fourth. He will win, and we hope he will win this coming Sunday!”
While they are all so keen to see Max deliver a strong result at the Red Bull Ring this weekend, the long-term potential of the new partnership is something that is not far from the minds of his fans, as they hope to celebrate a world championship in the future.
Otcay Bezazoglu: “For the last year, Max has been good, but his car wasn’t always good. If Honda can make the engine a little bit faster then I think you have the perfect combination. Winning would be great, but if he finishes on the podium that would be perfect. He’s doing so well and he has been driving at his best.”
Ruben Engelman: “The potential is better with Honda, for the future I think. Maybe next year will be good. I think there will be chances to win this year. Maybe in Mexico, and in Singapore too. I hope so. What we want to see is improvement during the year.”
Otcay Bezazoglu: “This is our first race. But when Formula 1 is on, wherever it is, Ruben either stays up or gets up! I don’t watch all the races and sometimes I come home and ask ‘Where was Verstappen?’ and he says ‘Fourth!’ and I ask ‘Why?’ and he says ‘That’s all the car could do!’. It will come good, we trust in it. We know that Honda are doing their best but the magic still needs to come, hopefully soon.”
Martijn Wenninh: “Maybe not the first year but building it up I think with Honda is a good place to be. It will take some time.”