While Max Verstappen will drive the wheels off anything they give him to race, the Dutchman laments the fact that at this point in the season he does not quite have the firepower – engine and chassis – to match Mercedes and Ferrari.
No doubt Honda have made huge steps since last year with their Formula 1 power unit package.
While Red Bull are not a benchmark because they were Renault powered until the end of last season, Toro Rosso ran the Japanese PUs last year and this year we saw how much progress there has been.
In Baku, last year Pierre Gasly (then with Toro Rosso) was three seconds down on the pole-winning time. This year the gap between Daniil Kvyat on the top time set by Valtteri Bottas in qualifying was down to 1.2 seconds. That’s substantial progress.
Meanwhile, in a similar comparison Red Bull powered by Honda were six tenths shy of the pole lap in Baku this time around, last year they were half a second adrift with Renault power.
Simple maths inevitably indicates an issue of sorts with the chassis or, rather, that Adrian Newey’s latest creation is having a laboured birth.
This year’s car, barring the PU package, is one that Verstappen cannot use to take the fight to the pacesetters just yet and, as a result, the Dutchman has urged his team to up the ante ahead of the crucial European stanza of the season, beginning with the Spanish Grand Prix next week.
Heading to Spain, Verstappen did not mince his words, “We know that we lose time on the straights, I think it’s not a secret. But I think car-wise, to really make a difference, we also need to step it up a bit more but, in the race, there was not much I was complaining about.”
Reading between the lines reveals that although the limitations of the current Honda Spec-2 PU remain, he also suggests the RB15 chassis could be better.
Verstappen continued, “I mean, it shows that if you’re closing a gap by seven, eight seconds over that stint, the car is working. But of course, as the driver, you always want it to be better, and I hope as the engineer you always want it to be better.”
Unintended or not that was a clumsy shot fired at Newey’s design team at Milton Keynes and a clear message: it’s not just the power unit folks!
Verstappen reflected on the weekend in Baku, “We were quick. But we ended up not being able to benefit from it for some reason. Of course, we were also a bit further back because we went a bit longer on that first set of tires. But on the other hand, if there would not have been a Virtual Safety Car, we would have all been very close together.”
In 2016, the at the record-breaking age of 18 years and 228 days he sensationally won his first F1 race with Red Bull when he triumphed at the Spanish Grand Prix, a memory that he clearly cherishes, “Our next race is back in Europe at Barcelona Circuit, which is the track where I won my first F1 race, so it is always a special one for me.”
“It’s a good track and we all test there during pre-season so hopefully that will help us set-up the car straight away. Of course, the temperatures will be a bit different and everyone is bringing new parts to their cars, so it will be interesting to see how competitive we can be.”
“There are some fast corners so it’s always a challenging circuit, and being closer to home, it will be good to see so many fans in the grandstands. For us, the main thing is to keep maximising our results while we hopefully continue to close the gap to the championship leaders,” added Verstappen.
Big Question: What’s wrong with the Red Bull RB15?