We no longer speak, in the paddock, of the performance of the Honda engine, or rather, the latter has become "a power unit like any other", because the performance differential compared to Renault or Ferrari has for example been reduced. (and Honda even has a huge lead over Ferrari today).
When we remember Honda's setbacks with McLaren between 2015 and 2017 (with a slight improvement in 2016), the Japanese engine manufacturer has come a long way, very far. The new partnership with Toro Rosso and then Red Bull has undoubtedly made it possible to move to a more serene environment, giving Honda time to work.
At Monza, Masashi Yamamoto, Honda's director of motorsport, took stock of this unprecedented progress in hindsight. For him, there is no miracle: the work paid off.
“We've learned so much from the McLaren days, these three years, and also this 1st year with Toro Rosso in 2018 was important enough for us to learn a lot. So I'm not surprised (at how quickly Honda has progressed), everything went as planned. But a surprise, not in a good way for us, is that Mercedes is very strong this year. "
What guarantees, with Red Bull, a serenity that Honda could not find with McLaren? Yamamoto has a very clear idea: communication between structures, between the team and the engine manufacturer, transparency and openness, in short, trust …
“The most important factor (in our progression) is communication. Honda and Red Bull are both very open about their chassis and their engine. We are very straightforward and we can say whatever we want. And Red Bull is very open and very frank with us. It is also very important that we can get direct feedback from the pilots. "
“Red Bull is also 100% committed to winning, that's where their focus is, and that matches our company goals. We just want to win. They let us do whatever we need to do to develop a package that can win. This is the main motivator. "
“We needed some time to catch up, as we were three years behind in the development of the power unit. We have now reached that point – so now we can compete with our rivals. "
However, as Yamamoto acknowledges, Honda does not yet have the best V6 in F1: it is indeed Mercedes that has taken the lead again. But is Honda ahead of Renault?
“There are several factors we have to think about like downforce and drag, so it's not easy. But based on GPS data, we believe Mercedes is way ahead of us, and second, third and fourth places are very close. "
“It’s a relief that we finally have good competitiveness against our rivals, but we want to support our drivers even more, especially now that in-season development is not allowed. With the management of the power unit in the race and other things, we believe we can help our drivers to have better Grands Prix. "
The future of Honda is now in question: because the engine manufacturer is not affected by the Concorde Agreements and can withdraw from the sport every year. This is why Red Bull added a clause to the Concorde Agreements, allowing early withdrawal of any team.
What can Yamamoto say about Honda’s commitment? Will he reassure Christian Horner and Max Verstappen? Is F1's new financial environment healthy?
"We think that the budget cap is a good thing but we are divided on the limitation of development time, because we started the development of our PU later than the others, which means that we had less time than our rivals. Now we know we're going to have to limit development time on the test bench, but it's the same for everyone. We need to find a way to work more efficiently, but we believe our engineers can do it. "
“I communicate with the CEO directly and the board members support us every race. They want us to win. And the better we get, the more likely we are to continue in F1. "