There has been a buzzword among many observers since the Red Bull-Honda partnership was announced, and that word is ‘pressure’.
During our first year with Toro Rosso, the agreement was reached to partner both Red Bull teams with the target we have held since returning to Formula 1 in 2015 in mind: To fight for championships.
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing has four drivers’ and constructors’ titles to its name in the past decade, and four is the magic number when it comes to race wins last season as well. It is a team built for winning, and Honda’s motor sport boss, Masashi Yamamoto says that is exactly the type of pressure Honda is ready for.
“All the decision-making and execution of Red Bull is always decided under the thought of ‘How we can win the race and championship?’,” Yamamoto-san says. “It is always their first priority anytime and everyone in the team is working together towards such a clear target.
“This impression has not changed from the time of negotiation until now. It is a pure racing team and we are excited to work with such an outfit.
“In terms of the pressure, we already knew from the beginning of the conversation that they are obviously a big team and all the fans and media has high expectations for them, so to be honest there’s not much change there either. We were ready for it.
“You could describe it that half of our feeling is one of big pressure but the other half is of positive expectation.”
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner has been overseeing victories in each of the past three seasons, but a championship challenge has proven out of reach since 2013. The goal is to put that right as Aston Martin Red Bull-Honda, and he says an element of patience will be required as both sides of the partnership learn how to get the best out of each other.
“I have found working with Honda very straightforward,” Horner says. “There’s a great deal of passion and enthusiasm. It’s been a very open and straightforward dialogue that the two companies have been having, and you can see their sense of determination and the commitment that Honda has made to Formula 1. It’s a perfect match for us. It’s been enjoyable and hopefully we can also have some fun along the way as well.
“Inevitably when you’ve got such a big change - it’s the first time that we’ve changed power supplier in 12 years - there’s going to be a getting to know you process. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so whilst we’re expecting to make progress throughout the year the target is very much looking at this as a two- to three-year project.
“In terms of the gap to Ferrari and Mercedes, we know where we’ve been the last couple of years. There are circuits that have suited us, there are circuits that haven’t, and our target is to be consistent across all types of venue.”
Fortunately, the new partnership has already got a certain level of maturity, with 2018’s year with Toro Rosso providing some experience. While the team at Faenza has a full season to learn from already, Horner says that partnership also had a key role to play for both Red Bull and Honda ahead of this year.
“Strategically it was a vital decision when Toro Rosso elected to take up a partnership with Honda for the 2018 season, and it gave Red Bull Technology - who supply the drivetrain solution to Toro Rosso - the ability to see behind the scenes a little of how Honda operate and their working practices, as we incorporated our transmission onto their engine.
“Monitoring the progress through the year meant that, by the time it got to Red Bull Racing making an engine decision, in the end it was very straightforward.”
As a new partnership, the Red Bull project grabs the headlines, but there is no let-up when it comes to working with Toro Rosso. Even with two teams to work with for the first time since our return to F1 four years ago, Yamamoto-san wants to see progress on all fronts.
“It is the same for both teams in that we are targeting achieving better results through the year,” Yamamoto-san says. “As Honda ourselves, we’ll keep working hard on the development and try to introduce the updates during the season as planned, but also we want to win races. We want to make this season the year we get it right to challenge at the top.”
Those are goals shared by Horner and Red Bull, and the early signs are that the new partnership has had a positive impact on those working together in Milton Keynes - including design guru Adrian Newey - where the Red Bull and Honda factories are just a few minutes’ drive apart.
“There’s a sense of great anticipation and excitement within the factory,” Horner reveals. “It’s exciting to be working with a new partner that shares our racing instinct and desire for competitiveness in a true partnership. So it’s been great to see Honda engineers and Red Bull engineers really engaging and working hard on engineering solutions.
“Adrian is a designer, he’s only really interested in horsepower. So of course he’s very excited by this new relationship. He’s been to the facility in Japan and was fully supportive of the move to Honda power supply for the 2019 season.
“The whole technical team has fully embraced this with huge enthusiasm, so it’s been like a new lease of life throughout the technical team, who are now working in a technical partnership as opposed to a customer-supplier relationship.”
While the new partnership has provided a boost to Red Bull, the same can be said of the atmosphere within the Honda factories in Milton Keynes and Sakura, where Yamamoto says there is an appreciation of the opportunity that now exists as a result of supplying a team with such recent race-winning experience.
“To be a partner with such a big team like Red Bull, it is a big pressure for Honda but also it is for sure a very big chance for us. We believe we can have a good relationship together where we can have open communication with mutual respect, just like we have built with Toro Rosso.
“We can’t be sure if we can immediately compete at the level to fight for the top until we actually see our cars running on track, but I strongly think this is a partnership which we can make steps forward together.”