Brendon Hartley, Toro Rosso, Interlagos, 2018

Toro Rosso performance shows Red Bull is “not lying” about Honda

Lap Time Watch: 2018 Brazilian Grand Prix

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Toro Rosso are over two seconds per lap faster at Interlagos compared to last year with the latest ‘spec three’ Honda power unit.

Having run the older ‘spec two’ power unit on Friday, Toro Rosso switched to the newer engine for final practice. Pierre Gasly lapped almost a second faster than he had the previous day.

He delivered the best from the chassis on Saturday, reaching the top 10 shootout after team mate Brendon Hartley dropped out in Q1. Hartley missed the cut by mere hundredths of a second.

Red Bull have been talking up Honda’s performance since announcing their switch to the Japanese power units for next season. On Thursday Max Verstappen insisted Honda’s improvement “also shows in the numbers.”

“We are not lying or putting something in the world which isn’t true,” he said. “But it also depends on how much the other people are going to improve as well so we have to wait and see.”

Only Sauber has made a bigger lap time improvement compared to Toro Rosso year-on-year at Interlagos. This is partly due to the fact Sauber had a 2016-specification power unit last season.

The only other venue where Toro Rosso made this much progress relative to their rivals was at Suzuka, where they ran Honda’s latest power unit in qualifying for the first time.

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Although Interlagos is the second-shortest circuit on the calendar in terms of lap time, this year’s pole position is over a second quicker than last year. And this was achieve in a rain-affected qualifying session.

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The basic layout of Interlagos has not changed for almost two decades. The current cars are now over two-and-a-half seconds faster than the V10 generation was at this track.

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2018 Brazilian Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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53 comments on “Toro Rosso performance shows Red Bull is “not lying” about Honda”

  1. Mclaren must be feeling pretty sick right now.

    1. Jelle van der Meer (@)
      11th November 2018, 10:00

      Well Mclaren is likely equally to blame for the failed partnership – I think Toro Rosso and Red Bull approach is much better.
      Mclaren said to Honda – your engine must have these specs and dimensions to fit our car
      Red Bull says to Honda – build the very best engine you can – we will fit it within our car

      1. How do you what these people actually said to each other…!?
        This is inadmissible evidence.

    2. Why? Toro Rosso second to last with no chance of getting any higher in the Constructors Championship. And they only provided very lame excuses why they used that many engines.

      1. And you really think that statistic (ranking) and opinion (lame excuses) will make McLaren feel any less ‘sick’?

        You might be onto something. Why improve your own weaknesses if you can find somebody who you believe is worse off :P

        1. Why improve your own weaknesses if you can find somebody who you believe is worse off

          @coldfly – Claire sits nervously, hoping no one notices her ;-)

  2. So, it turns out Spec 3 is definitely better than Spec 2?
    See that, Renault? Each upgrade can be an improvement, not just an alternative. ;-)

  3. What was most impressive is that I think they made the 3rd sector as fast as the Mercedes customers,(even marginally better then force India) only behind Ferrari powered teams, and way ahead of Renault and McLaren, that is a engine performance sector. In qualifying they have a much better engine by now then Renault, and in race trim they probably are ahead if they can run the engine without issues

    1. @mfalcao, their relative times in the final sector weren’t that impressive – Gasly and Hartley were the 14th and 15th fastest drivers through that sector, which isn’t a great improvement on 2017 (15th and 17th fastest).

      You are also wrong to say that they were “way ahead of Renault”, as Hulkenberg was actually faster than both Toro Rosso drivers – he set the 11th fastest final sector time. Neither, for that matter, were they “marginally better then Force India”, as both Force India drivers were quicker in that sector as well – Perez was 13th fastest and Ocon 10th fastest.

      The two teams that they were beating were McLaren and Williams but, given that both McLaren and Williams abandoned development of their current cars – don’t forget, Williams were already testing 2019 spec parts during the mid-season test at the Hungaroring, and McLaren has also been using some of the recent free practise sessions to test 2019 spec parts – is it really that impressive to be beating two teams with undeveloped cars when Toro Rosso are still developing their 2018 car far later into this season than is normal for most teams?

      With regards to the comparison between 2017 and 2018, whilst Honda have improved since last year, I do also wonder how much of the relative improvement in lap time has come from other factors than the engine, perhaps making the improvement look larger than it is.

      If we look at the 2017 Brazilian GP, Hartley and Gasly were both very inexperienced – Hartley was in his third race and Gasly in his fourth, and both drivers were still trying to get to grips with their cars and were still trying to settle in to their new teams. Gasly had never driven at Interlagos before, whilst Hartley had only taken part in one race at Interlagos in 2014, so both drivers were still really learning the track.

      More importantly, although Hartley did make it into Q2, he deliberately did not try to set a competitive lap time in that session as he knew he was taking an engine penalty – as Keith pointed out in the article for the 2017 race, Toro Rosso spent the session getting Hartley to practise his pit stops instead.

      Furthermore, in the tail end of 2017, Toro Rosso were embroiled in a fight with Renault over their engine usage and were running short of spare parts, with both drivers having to take an engine change before the race. In those circumstances, were Toro Rosso really running the cars as hard as they could have in 2017?

      With those caveats in mind, how much of Toro Rosso’s performance has really come from the engine, and how much has come from the fact that the two drivers are now more experienced and have been properly integrated into the team, plus the fact that the team did have an incentive to push hard in qualifying this year, whilst in 2017 they were not pushing to set a better lap time?

      1. I only saw live the first part of qualifying and Gasly was always better in the 3 sector then both Renault and force Indias. The times you are referring to are best sector made by driver, not on the same lap, these are different things we don’t now the setups that were made in those laps for, maybe Hulk had less wing in that final sector were he posted is faster sector 3, and did a bad second sector because of it.
        There fastest laps Gasly was more then 2 tenths up on Hulk and almost 2 tenths up on the force Indias and that was on q2, in q3 Gasly new he wasn’t gonna beat the Ferrari powered cars so he didn’t bother to run at full power (this part I’m guessing because I didn’t see d3) judging by the fact he was 4 tenths slower then in q2.
        So I stand by what I saw in quali that Honda are ahead of Renault and close to Mercedes in qualifying

        1. @mfalcao, only if you refer to the Q2 session results alone, because in Q1 Hulkenberg was actually fractionally ahead of the Toro Rosso drivers (1.09.009s versus 1.09.046s for Gasly – only a few hundredths faster, I grant you, but the order was Hulkenberg ahead of Gasly in that session).

          The times that both Gasly and Hulkenberg recorded during qualifying as follows:





          Now, whilst Gasly was quicker in Q2, Hulkenberg was persistently faster than Gasly was during Q1, and often by a gap of several tenths of a second – so, whilst Toro Rosso may have been better in Q2, it seems that they did not have a persistent advantage in qualifying trim.

          1. Q2 is the most relevant for midfield teams, q1 is just about doing enough to reach q2, and Gasly was one of the last drivers to set a competitive time in q1,were the track was starting to get wet.
            In q2 Hulk in his last flying lap was green on first and second sector and yellow on 3 sector, from what I understand, is they tried to change setup a bit and it didn’t work and he lost allot of time in the final sector (midfield was so tight that 1 tenth made quite a difference) that offset the time he gained in first and second sector.
            So imo Honda are clearly ahead in qualifying and in race trim they are pretty close with a slight edge for Honda spec 3.
            Red bull are the only guys to have the full picture and they are confident they made the right choice.

        2. “I only saw live the first part of qualifying…”
          “So I stand by what I saw in quali…”

          Not very scientific is it… :-)

          1. Renault didn’t make q3 did they? So q3 is irrelevant to this discussion

          2. @mfalcao
            Erm, don’t you realise that Q3 only portrays Gasly’s performance in a better light? Even with another couple of attempts on an improving track, Gasly was unable to match Hülkenberg’s sector 3 time. Therefore, if we disregard Q3, the comparison becomes even less flattering.

        3. @mfalcao

          The times you are referring to are best sector made by driver, not on the same lap, these are different things we don’t now the setups that were made in those laps for, maybe Hulk had less wing in that final sector were he posted is faster sector 3, and did a bad second sector because of it.

          That’s impossible, as the setup of a car cannot be changed after it leaves the pit lane for the first time in qualifying. Parc fermé regulations apply from that point onward, and any setup change made before the first pit stop in the race results in disqualification from qualifying and a forced pit lane start.
          => Neither Renault nor Toro Rosso have changed their setups.

          Looking at the sector times and speed trap figures, it seems that Toro Rosso were running rather skinny rear wings (compared to Renault), as they appear higher up the order at the end of long straights than they do in the short-ish acceleration zone at the end of sector 2:

          Finish line:
          11. Gasly 327.3
          15. Hülkenberg 320.8
          16. Hartley 320.6
          20. 316.6

          Speed trap (before turn 1):
          13. Gasly 324.5
          15. Hülkenberg 323.8
          18. Hartley 320.2
          19. Sainz 319.8

          Intermediate 1 (before turn 4):
          12. Gasly 323.9
          16. Hülkenberg 321.8
          17. Hartley 320.6
          18. Sainz 320.0

          Intermediate 2 (before turn 13):
          13. Hülkenberg 266.1
          15. Sainz 265.9
          19. Gasly 261.9
          20. Hartley 261.4

          Three of these measuring points are very similar, as the finish line, speed trap and intermediate 1 are all placed at the end of long straights. The speed trap comes a few hundred metres after the finish line, so the speeds measured there don’t change too much. However, it is interesting to note that the finish line lies in a downhill portion of the track, followed by a relatively steep uphill portion before the speed trap. The fact that Gasly and Hartley’s most competitive top speeds (11th and 16th) were set in the downhill section, but they lost quite a bit of ground on the very short uphill run to the speed trap at the end of the straight (Gasly losing 2 places to Magnussen and Ocon; Hartley going from an advantage of 4 kph to just 0.4 over Sainz in just a few hundred metres) is quite insightful in itself.
          Intermediate two, the relatively short, flat-out run out of the low-speed corner Bico do Pato to Junção is much more revealing in terms of engine power, as the slow cornering speed (under 100 kph) and the relatively slow speeds before Junção (260-275 kph) reduce the significance of drag to a minimum (whereas the latter half of the start-finish straight, being downhill, and the Reta Oposta, with its high entry speed out of the Senna S, are all about drag). To be fast here, you need grunt.
          Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Toro Rosso duo are dead last in that speed trap, and by quite a margin.

          These figures are solid evidence of pretty much the opposite of what one could think when hearing what the Red Bull camp has to tell about the Honda engine: It’s still down on power on everyone else, including Renault.

          However, they seem to claim something else here, if you read carefully: There is no talk of Honda being better than Renault (even though that’s heavily insinuated), they’re just talking about improvements.

          However, the basis they chose for that comparison is heavily flawed (anon provides a fine summary of the many problems Toro Rosso had in late 2017, which basically mean we’re comparing a team that was almost deliberately underperforming in last year’s Brazilian GP, far worse than in the rest of the season, to the same team in a non-terrible situation).
          I might add that the comparison of the qualifying performances by Toro Rosso in Brazil between 2017 and 2018 to prove Honda’s mprovements is also more or less meaningless for another couple of reasons:

          – The 2017 Honda engine was already showing signs of improvement late in the season despite McLaren’s shift of focus to the development of their 2018 car: Alonso qualified a strong 7th in Interlagos in 2017, just missing out on beating Pérez to the ‘Best of the rest’ spot by 0.019 seconds. Vandoorne, being half a second slower, was still a respectable 13th.

          – They claim it has absolutely nothing to do with reliability, which may or may not be the case, but Toro Rosso have changed their engines once every two races on average. They even used the older spec 2 engines on Friday to save mileage on the spec 3 engine used in qualifying, so they basically used brand new engines. Contrast that to Renault, whose last engine changes were in Spa (Sainz) and Monza (Hülkenberg). In other words: The Honda PU is one or two races old at most, but the Renault PU may be on its way to complete its 7th or 8th race distance.
          Now, I don’t know how good Honda’s reliability really is, whether they’re really able to run the engine with more power because they have so much less wear. But I think it’s safe to assume that their situation clearly isn’t a disadvantage.

          And last of all, one swallow does not a summer make. Toro Rosso are reporting a significant year-on-year improvement in qualifying on this one track. But the rest of their year-on-year development has been a disaster. In 2017, Toro Rosso finished 7th in the CWC with 53 points. And they could’ve performed a lot better still, but losing Sainz to facilitate the Honda deal, and frequent lineup changes involving the rookies Hartley and Gasly as well as a shattered relationship with Renault meant that they only collected a single point in the last 6 races (if that doesn’t sound drastic enough: their points-scoring abilities decreased by a factor of 22) and lost 6th place to the Renault works team.
          In 2018, Toro Rosso have scored about 65% of that (33 points in 19 races so far), and have dropped to 9th place in the CWC. Today’s race might be the last nail in the coffin of their 2018 campaign, as Sauber are in a good position to score quite a few points.
          Contrast that to the Renault teams, who’ve all had a better 2018 campaign than they had in 2017:

          Red Bull:
          2017: 18.4 ppr (points per race), 2018: 19.05 ppr (+3.5 %)

          2017: 2.85 ppr, 2018: 6 ppr (+110 %)

          And last, but definitely not least: McLaren, who switched from Honda to Renault:
          2017: 1.5 ppr, 2018: 3.26 ppr (+117 %)

          Long story short:
          The Red Bull-Honda narrative only works with extremely few, cherry-picked examples. If you take a different perspective, pretty much regardless of what you look at, you can only come to the conclusion that this narrative is extremely misleading.

  4. The thing is Honda don’t have to beat themselves, or even Renault next year, they need to beat Merc & Ferrari. Two teams which have huge amounts of resources, just look at whenever Merc have a tough weekend… they push their workshop 24hrs a day until they have fixed the issue… they might take it to Renault, but there is daylight between themselves and the actually championship contenders.

    1. ” Merc & Ferrari, two teams which have huge amounts of resources”

      And you suggest either Honda or RBR hasn’t..? Both have a sheer unlimited budget and the facilities wich easily equals Ferrari and Mercedes. Currently Honda is testing their 2019 Pu in 3 different locations, Japan, UK and Austria, they have a complete team including drivers to excusively test the PU’s (TR). RBR has one, if not THE best engineer in Newey and among the windtunnels known in F1.

      The only thing wich kept RBR from winning was the underpowered Renault PU, now Renault is becoming serious with their works team the best option for RBR is to choose for exclusivity

      1. The reliability wasn’t only on Renault, and last year Red Bull initially got the aero wrong too; if either return next year, they start already on the back foot.

      2. The thing that has helped RBR actually drive for the win in both Mexico and Brazil was actually the Renault PU. Their larger turbo works better in thin air at high altitudes. RBR haven’t chosen exclusivity, they have chosen a customer engine from Honda. I don’t understand how testing the PU in three different locations is anything but inefficient and a waste of resources…

        RBR’s wind tunnel, like all, can and has suffered from correlation issues. Newey, while brilliant, isn’t the golden ticket, he’s an aerodynamics genius, who has at times produced cars so fragile they’ve had to be binned mid season. Honda have resources, Renault have resources, but Ferrari & Merc are full and single-mindedly committed to making a PU and chassis that work in perfect harmony.

    2. It will be hard beating Ferrari and Mercedes for sure but thats the good part.

      1. They beat them 4x this year; just 2 short of their equal share (excl. F1.5).
        It seems Honda doesn’t need to be massively stronger than Renault to make it a 3-way horserace next year.

        1. Fingers crossed.

        2. Mexico, and to a point Brazil (were very strong and should have won) are outliers, their altitude gives the larger format turbo that Renault use a PU advantage that they don’t have on other tracks. If anything Renault can be thanked for these results, and they were in Mexico. Monaco is another outlier as a track, the PU is less important plus it suits the RBR and Dan.

          The Honda PU is really still much of an unknown, they haven’t been able to show a significant upswing in performance throughout the year at TR that hasn’t also corresponded with car development, yes they have qualified well at times, but they’ve been so up and down during the year it’s hard to actually gauge. They haven’t run any of the new spec engines for anywhere near the needed 7 races so reliability is still very much an unknown. If RBR want to fight Merc & Ferrari the Honda PU needs to be something special and at the moment I haven’t seen any evidence that it is.

  5. There were rumours that Honda presented a 0.5-0.6s more “rapid” engine in Japan. Well, Toro Rosso failed to reach top 10 on merit in qualification or finish in top 10 in the race.
    These are also just talks.

    1. You really think you can judge an engine by the performance of the team running it? To compare, Verstappen was faster than Bottas and reeling him in consistently towards the end of the Japanese GP. Does that mean the Renault engine is better than the Mercedes? Nope. It means that the Red Bull package is better overall than the Merc. In Japan, Toro Rosso wasn’t good aero-wise.

      They may be talks as of now, but this already looks much better than the McLaren Honda partnership ever did.

      1. “They may be talks as of now…”
        So you’re agreeing…?

  6. Well comparing qualifying performance (that is where the ultimate speed is these days) from this year against last year Comparing qualifying on the same circuits, I come to a different conclusion.

    With running Renault they out performed running Hond 23 times
    Same position 2 times
    With running Honda they out performed running Renault 11 times.

    Looks to me the Renault engine is a bit better than the Honda engine as they definitely slipped back on the grid..

    This best qualifying car against bests qualifying car, for both cars. On the following circuits.

    1. This based on grid position.

    2. Toro Rosso can be compared to Williams and Sauber budget wise, not to major teams as McLaren and Renault (who even are a works team).

      The best way to compare the development of TR is to compare their development between the Spec B and C, any other comparishing goes wrong cause people assume TR/Honda is as fast as RBR/Honda… well McLaren and Renault are still over 1-2 sec slower than RBR are today…with the same PU.

      1. I am comparing torro rosso with torro rosso. Qualifying wise.
        You can expect that they have the same development rate as the team directly surrounding them, so car development wise they should not slip. And the performance loss can be directly related to engine performance.

        Unless they made an aero booboo like williams and ferrari, but even then there should be a clear development jump in grid position. And that is simply not there.

        1. And they did, almost all there updates didn’t work as expected, the major update they had for Austria was a failure for example.
          Toro Rosso are a test team for red bull, not only on engine this year but also on aero, they are quite innovative in aero, and that backfires allot of the times. They had a quite unique front wing design that was scraped because it didn’t work as expected for example.

  7. Let’s wait and see how it goes in the race before we go getting out hopes up. There’s been a few races this year where the Torro Rosso’s have looked quick and saturday and have then failed to make it to the end of the race or just been nowhere.

    The big test will be next year when the engine is in a Red Bull.

    1. …..We so need an edit button….

      Plus, how many grid penalties have the Torro Rosso’s incurred and how many components have they changed?

      1. They are a testmule. Everyone knows Toro Rosso has suffered this season just as they did when they ran a gimped Ferrari engine. If Honda are getting their package together it bodes well for Red Bull next year, at least it looks like they will be better off than with Renault.

        1. They are a testmule.

          So it’s actually Mulo Rosso :)

          1. Good one :)

      2. “…..We so need an edit button….”
        Why not just read what you’ve written before you post, instead of afterwards…? It’s a lot quicker…

        1. Because sometimes, it’s not until you’ve hit the reply when you think, ‘Oh that’s something else I meant to say’

          On the other hand, having an edit button would deny us some of the gems some of the more lunatic members of these boards have posted as they’d quickly edit their posts after negative responses and just go ‘I didn’t say that’

          1. Hi Nikki – your first para. is already answered by mine…
            But your second para. is a very good reason for not having the edit button… Good thinking, m8.

  8. It is sad to see Mclaren fans still trying to justify the switch to Renault on the basis of reliability. Give it a rest guys. Even Mclaren have accepted that they screwed up.

    From my point of view, I don’ think Honda has improved a whole lot in 2018. They were quite good at the end of last year itself. Mclaren reached Q3 here then. They were being held back by a poor Mclaren chassis and some excellent Mclaren PR which convinced everyone that their chassis was perfect and engine was the issue. So good was their PR that some reporters even lobbied for Honda to take a year out of the sport while continuing to fund Mclaren because “Honda owed Mclaren” (h**ps://

    It is quite clear now that Mclaren was a bigger mess while everyone was focused on Honda.

    1. But if you look at the data last year’s car was actually decent. Look at how it performed on twisty circuits last year compared to high speed ones. And look at this year with their aero issues where they are

  9. Alonso qualified 7th at the Brazilian race last year, gasly qualifying 9th is a step backwards.

    1. Torro Rosso actually qualified
      15th and 17th last year and now 10th and 17th so they are doing better here.

      Comparing two different teams says absolutely nothing.

      1. Indeed, in fact the only thing we can say about this is mclaren slipped far back, and not certainly because renault is necessarily worse than honda, that’s still hard to prove till next year, but because mclaren got worse in relation to the field, I’d say they improved far less with their car than other teams did, I was expecting better from mclaren in brazil, given that they could still be decent lately (singapore, mexico).

  10. Talk about using the “glass half full” theory. Yes, they are over 2 seconds per lap faster than last year but still 1.7 seconds off of Hamilton’s time. That is the more telling number. And is reliability any better than in the past?

    Maybe Honda are holding back and will be a pleasant surprise next year but it would be best for them to restrain from making claims until they are proven on the track.

    It’s hard to believe that they will be able to erase the 1.5 second deficit and more as the front runners will also make gains. Not impossible, but more likely to come to fruition in 2020 or later.

    1. Are you serious? And aero and drivers don’t count?

      1. Sure aero counts – but only for so much. Merc and Red aren’t chopped liver in the aero department.
        If you think Newey and VER can make up for a 1.5 – 2 second deficit in 2019 you are in for a long season.
        Honda needs to step up their game and so far it’s not enough.

        1. Not sure if you realise that, probably you do, but red bull is NOT the same as toro rosso, in fact based on mexico they lap 2,5 seconds quicker, the goal is not for toro rosso to compete with mercedes, it’s for red bull, so I’d say toro rosso being 2 sec back is good enough.

  11. Honda is catching up, but ferrari and Mercedes are far ahead and will make steps next year. I Bet it will be the same. Mercedes. Ferrari, and third redbull. Maybe Ricciardo will prove a master stroke and Renault are suddenly challenging Merc/Ferrari… They should be, they are the only other chassis/engine manufacturer.

    1. Agreed. I do hope for Max’s sake RBR’s enthusiasm is for genuine reasons from insider info, and that they have solid reason to be so confident about next year, but so far for me I will still have to see it to believe it. That said, it is not like the Renault has been reliable for them, particularly DR as we have all seen this year, and they still managed a solitary third in the WCC. So all things being equal, RBR should retain third even with no small amount of Honda unreliability, which for now is what I am expecting and hoping to be wrong about.

      One thing is for sure…RBR will have their chance to marry a 2019 Newey car to a 2019 Honda Pu which we haven’t seen before, so in a way all bets are off. We’re just going to have to see. And…it’s just going to be year one of the relationship and the steepest part of the learning curve, so they deserve patience in that regard.

      Totally agree about Renault as a works team and now without the ‘distraction’ of supplying RBR (if it was) they can and must concentrate on themselves (like they need me to say that) and take DR’s input about RBR’s chassis and run with it. They too need a better and more reliable Pu, like RBR, but they’ll need all the help they can get on the chassis side.

      1. I remember you defending verstappen a lot earlier in the season, when he was making several mistakes (which in general he didn’t before 2018) and saying he was something special, I never doubted his speed, but lately he seems to have improved again, as in kept his speed without being too reckless (I ofc blame ocon for that), I haven’t been a fan of any specific driver since schumacher, but might as well be a verstappen fan, he reminds me of schumacher in many ways.

        So I hope honda engine will be decent next year, it doesn’t have to be much better than renault, given what red bull did in 2018 they should be able to seriously challenge ferrari and mercedes with a small improvement in the engine department in relation to the field, gasly is still unproven but could still turn out to be another ricciardo, and leclerc seems good as well, anything for more competition to mercedes.

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