Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso, Bahrain International Circuit, 2018

Toro Rosso’s Honda success inspires Red Bull switch

2018 F1 season review

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Toro Rosso has always been Red Bull’s ‘kindergarten’ for new drivers, but in 2018 they took on an additional role: testing the Honda power units which the senior team will use for the 2019 F1 season.

Their season wasn’t as bad as the standings convey, but faltering progress with their car combined with reliability problems and a lot of power unit penalties made for a year of highs and lows.

Before the season started some believed the Red Bull family were too optimistic about the potential of the Honda power unit. McLaren had toiled for three years with Honda’s unreliable and uncompetitive engines.

Straight from testing it was clear Honda had made drastic improvement as they completed the most laps since their return to F1, and the most of any team on the final day of testing. Technical director James Key was quick to praise their new partner saying. “There hasn’t been any major issues at all,” he enthused. “Any minor stops we’ve had have been on our side. They’ve just been super-smooth to work with.”

The first round did not deliver on that promise: smoke billowed from the back of Pierre Gasly’s car halfway through the Australian Grand Prix. But two weeks later the story was very different.

Toro Rosso F1 team budget 2018
Toro Rosso F1 team budget 2018

Gasly qualified a remarkable fifth in Bahrain and, aided by retirements around him, went one better in the race, shocking the entire paddock including Toro Rosso themselves. It was the team’s best finish of the season and Honda’s best result since they returned to F1 in 2015. “I’m very happy, especially for Honda after the difficulties they had in the past”, remarked team principal Franz Tost – an obvious nod in the direction of McLaren.

The rest of the season lay somewhere between the extremes of the first two races. And while Gasly thrilled the team with that early result, team mate Brendon Hartley was on the back foot from the start.

Hartley scored his first point in Baku, but it came after two significant errors. The first came in China when Hartley was told to let Gasly through and the pair collided. Hartley was quick to call the incident, “a bit of miscommunication.” but the team held him responsible.

There was no doubting Hartley was responsible for the terrifying near-miss between him and Gasly in qualifying at Baku. While Hartley was touring in, Gasly appeared behind him on a hot lap and narrowly avoided a huge collision.

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Not long afterwards rumours surfaced that Toro Rosso were trying to get McLaren’s Lando Norris into Hartley’s car. This didn’t come to pass, but he was left in the dark over whether the team needed his services for 2019 until the day after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Both suffered from an excess engine penalties. While Honda still had their share of reliability problems, many of the penalties were tactical, allowing Honda to accelerate the development of their power unit or, later in the year, to test a major update ahead of their home race at Suzuka. This often left the drivers struggling to reach the points or – as happened to Hartley more than once – eliminated in the midfield melee.

Toro Rosso team stats 2018

Best race result (number) 4 (1)
Best grid position (number) 5 (1)
Non-classifications (technical/other) 10 (6/4)
Laps completed (% of total) 2,031 (80.21%)
Laps led (% of total) 0 (0%)
Championship position (2017) 9 (7)
Championship points (2017) 33 (53)
Pit stop performance ranking 7

Performance upgrades for the rest of the car arrived more slowly, were not always ready for both drivers at the same time or, as in Austria, did not work as planned.

The pair often ran to different strategies, inevitably leading the team to impose orders. But towards the end of the season the drivers’ relationship soured. Hartley, knowing he had to beat Gasly to justiy a 2019 seat, suggested the team had exaggerated how damaged Gasly’s car was in Austin, where he finished behind Hartley.

In Brazil, while running outside the points in the closing stages, the team told Gasly to let Hartley through because the latter was on fresher, softer tyres. “If he’s that much faster then he can overtake me,” replied Gasly. He eventually forced Hartley, who had let Gasly by when ordered to on several previous occasions, to take matters into his own hands.

“I made the overtake on Pierre by charging the battery, getting a mega exit from the last corner, using up some tyres and made a clean overtake,” said Hartley afterwards.

“If the team tells us that we’re racing that’s what I’m going to do but from the team’s point of view when we don’t have spare parts of the new aero kit it really didn’t make sense for us to be fighting. I fully respect that decision that they made and I also wouldn’t be attacking my team mate if I’m told that he’s going to be letting me by in turn four.”

“I’m all for racing but if I’m told that the race isn’t on then I’m not going to go against the team orders and risk damaging the car,” he added. “He didn’t give the same speech about team orders when I’ve let him by many times this year.”

The team was relegated to ninth in the championship late in the season by the rapidly-improved Sauber. Despite Honda’s undoubted improvement compared to their time with McLaren, the Toro Rosso-Honda still wanted for reliability, covering fewer racing laps than any other team on the grid. But the team was successful in its true goal for this season: laying the foundations for Red Bull and Honda in 2019.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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37 comments on “Toro Rosso’s Honda success inspires Red Bull switch”

  1. Bahrain was a watershed moment. For Toro Rosso, Pierre Gasly, Red Bull, Honda, Mclaren; all of them.

    In years gone by and when the history of the Faenza-based F1 team is written, Bahrain 2018 and Italy 2008 (Vettel’s win) will go down as the most significant moments of Toro Rosso’s history, moments where they shook up F1.

    1. To be fair, Bahrain 2018 has the potential to be a watershed moment. Let’s see how the Red Bull Honda alliance does over the next two years.

      It is quite true that Vettel’s first win at Monza heralded success for both him and his (parent) team, but at the same time, Maldonado’s win did neither.

    2. Bahrain was fluke moment. Nothing more. The rest of the season and the final position of the divers and team proved that. It was the beginning of the season and many teams were still trying to come to terms with switching on the new Pirelli tyres. All you saw was Toro Rosso stumbling on that sweet spot for one race completely by fluke.

  2. STR or more accurately described as RBR 2018 engine laboratory for destructive testing

  3. Am I the only one not seeing the “successful” year with Honda. They had the worst reliability among all the engine manufacturers. I believe they used 10 turbos, ice and mgu-h on Gaslys car and around 9 on Hartley’ car. The only reason they fared well in pre season testing was because they used a fresh power unit on every single day. I’m not buying the intentional ‘test bed’ penalties taken by Honda either… As they introduced the same number of updates as every other engine manufacturer. Toro Rosso finished 9th in the WCC, which is lower than they finished in 2017.

    Yet.. Somehow.. This was a successful year for them?

    The only thing Honda managed to do well was disguise another failure and brand it as a success. Talk about polishing a t urd and calling it candy.

    1. I haven’t been able to understand where the comments have been coming from about Honda having a successful season either. They had a couple of good results but as seen by the races afterwards they managed to do this by running the engine at full power and binning it after 1 race and then hailing it as a success.

      If the Honda partnership was so good for them surely they would have finished higher in the championship than 9th, even being a glorified testing season?

      1. @todfod @Ryan I don’t disagree with your sentiments, however, I do suspect there’s more to the story than we know from our observations. At least, I’m sure hoping there is. As we know they took a lot of new engines and incurred a lot of penalties for that, and as it says above the car development wasn’t keeping up with the engine upgrades, so there are a few reasons they didn’t score more points. For all we know they may have done many upgrades, or at least compiled much data on existing components and their durability and performance etc etc.

        I hope they surprise us next year, and after all, it is about the marriage of chassis and Pu these days, and we have yet to see a 2019 Honda Pu with an Adrian Newey 2019 RBR car. They would have been handcuffed staying with Renault anyway, so I am just hoping they can at least maintain what they were able to do in 2018, and am certainly not expecting them to be fighting for the Championships, so it might just be a year-one orientation year. I’ll never be too hard on any team in their first year of a marriage, nor any driver in his first season with a new team. They have much work to do but I’m sure they’re stoked at the possibilities, and full of hope and optimism for the future. They’ll learn a ton in 2019.

    2. Look at it this way, how many teams use Mercedes engine, Merc, Racing Point, Williams. Those using Ferrari, Ferrari, Sauber and Haas. Renault has RBR, Renault, McLaren. Honda have just 1 team to supply.
      How do get their data, their experiments for 2019, when they come back in the Big League. I think somewhere, they went full throttle development in 2018 to get 2019 right. I think, it would only be fair if judge them by their performance in the coming season. 2018 seemed too Beta for it to be a real season.
      I hope for their and F1 sake, it has worked

    3. Umm, no. This was a year of Honda success. Pre-season, it was expected that McLaren will be 2-3 seconds faster, battle with the Bulls and Toro Rosso will be 2-3 seconds slower and struggling to qualify within 107%. Honda have performed spectacularly better than these expectations.
      Honda came into 2018 with the reputation of having the worst engine on the grid (reputation solidly based on the supposed superiority of the McLaren chassis). As McLaren’s chassis assertions were methodically broken down, all their accusations towards the Honda engine became unfounded as well. Honda successfully proved that they weren’t the worst engine on the grid.

      So yes compared to Pre-season expectations, Honda have been ‘successful’

      1. What you’ve done in your entire comment is highlight that Honda was successful because Mclaren dropped the ball this year.

        Honda came into 2018 with the reputation of having the worst engine on the grid

        Just to set the record straight… they still leave 2018 with the reputation of having the worst engine on the grid.

        1. True, but really, we already know Merc is the best with Ferrari a close second, so there is only Renault to compare reasonably to Honda, and it is not like Renault is without issues.

          Anyhoo, nobody knows more than Honda and Renault what they have to do, and it obviously isn’t easy. At least the 2019 Honda Pu will likely be in the best car it will be in, likely by far, since it re-entered F1 in 2015.

          1. @robbie

            I agree to a certain extent. Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything between Mercedes and Ferrari power units. Both are equally good. The next tier is Renault and Honda. While Renault still has their issues, they’ve shown that in certain conditions, especially high altitudes (Mexico and Brazil), they are a pretty damn close to Ferrari and the Mercs. Honda on the other hand couldn’t run their spec 3 in Mexico due to altitude issues. At the end of the season, all Renault teams finished in front of Honda powered cars despite one of them really making a mess of things.

            While I do agree that next year we’ll see the Honda power unit in a competitive chassis, and that will make everything clearer, I just don’t think sugar coating the 2018 season of unreliability and unclear progress is really necessary to fans who’ve watched this season closely enough.

          2. @todfod not to take anything from what you’re saying, and frankly I agree with most of it, you simple can’t compare how the Renault powered teams finished in comparison with STR. It’s RedBull, Renault and McLaren we are talking here against the Toro Rosso operation which is minuscule in comparison

          3. @johnmilk

            I get that. But Toro Rosso increased their head count this year due to the extra funds at Honda’s courtesy. So they actually had more resources than than in 2017… Yet they only moved backwards in the WCC. You’re right that we shouldnt look at Red bull, Renault and even Mclaren for comparison.. But still you need to look at Toro Rossos comparison with Renault power to measure the positive impact that Honda power had.

            I think people can say that Honda had a ‘respectable’ year or a ‘not so disastrous’ year.. But “successful”… Heck they are still a few country miles away from a successful year.

          4. @todfod you’re absolutely right in my opinion. Better, sure, maybe influenced by RBR pushing Honda for solutions hence the number of engines changes, yet far from being successful

          5. @robbie i always wonder if people who say

            At least the 2019 Honda Pu will likely be in the best car it will be in

            Remember the MP 4/18 and of course the glorious 4/19 and their habit of cooking the engine

          6. @mrboerns Lol I hadn’t remembered that but you caused me to google it. Yup a rare boo boo by Newey with too-tight packaging creating cooling issues and great headaches for the mechanics to get at anything without taking apart the suspension to do so.

            So firstly I trust Newey has learned from that:) and secondly they (RBR) have said they will accommodate Honda and not ask Honda to accommodate them in terms of the car design. Ie. Newey will work with what he’s got. Here’s hoping ;)

        2. I accept all the points of Honda unreliability. Yes, they are still a problem. However, any doubts on Honda’s power have been strongly dispelled this year (another success).

          Honda was successful because Mclaren dropped the ball this year.

          Let me rephrase that: Honda was successful because the fact that McLaren have been dropping the ball last few years was exposed. Yes, it was multiple years. If it was just a one-off year where the chassis was bad, was their need to fire a significant number of technical leads? McLaren produced multiple good chassis over several years while having the same culture and matrix management in 2018 as in previous years, why the need for culture change and abandonment of matrix management after just a one-off bad chassis?

          The fact that McLaren chose to make far-reaching organizational changes this year proves that McLaren’s problems existed for multiple years, years in which they said that there wasn’t any problem within us and all problems were Honda. McLaren’s actions prove that there were indeed problems within McLaren. By corollary, the 2nd part of their assertion ‘all problems were Honda’ also becomes untrue. This equals success for Honda.
          Again, I am only talking of performance, not reliability.

      2. There are 4 different engines: 3 of them won races, Honda did not (although it was not expected to);
        The Honda engined team could not beat any of the other teams with the Renault engine, the one I guess you assume is the worst.
        The Honda’s reliability was the worse (even though some changes were planned to test updates but that on the other hand masquerades the progress, as their components never had the same total usage, or mileage, as the other 3)

        Even though to me personally I think this was a good year for them, because they did make progress (achieved their best result after returning) it is difficult to accept this statement “Honda successfully proved that they weren’t the worst engine on the grid.”.
        What they proved is that their engine is not a joke, as the previous seasons with McLaren, and that performance, on race day, is very close (either below or above) to the next engine (Renault).

      3. Sumedh, I wouldn’t say that “As McLaren’s chassis assertions were methodically broken down, all their accusations towards the Honda engine became unfounded as well”, because there were in fact times when Toro Rosso and Honda did encounter similar issues – for example, over the course of the season Honda had to temporarily withdraw one of their engines because it was causing significant vibrational issues through the transmission, which was a problem that McLaren reported last year as well (perhaps not quite as severe, but enough for them to need to withdraw it from use for a few races to remap the engines to avoid causing transmission failures).

    4. This is definitely an interesting thread where I find myself agreeing with both sides of the argument :-)

      1. I’m on the fence with @phylyp. But have enjoyed the debate. Cheers @todfod, food for thought.

    5. A succesfull year for Honda is the development of the engine during the season and not the race results. They think large.

      1. Power of dreams large?

    6. I’m 100% with you.

      These spin stories are comical.
      Most people are forgetting that Toro Rosso were running top 5 in the 2017 championship, until the back end when they accused Renault of sabotaging their results.
      By switching to Honda they went from 5th place contenders to convincingly second last, same place as McLaren had been & with almost exactly the same number of points – including one anomalous 4th place.

      Honda – Power of Delusions

  4. Effectively a testing season for RBR. That’s the best way to summarize it on the POV of STR.

  5. #bring back Cosworth

    1. MaliceCooper, Cosworth seem to be moving out of developing engines for motorsport applications these days – they mainly sell electronic systems and engine tuning equipment, and their website has a strong emphasis on the development of electrical systems for autonomous driving and telemetry systems.

      You can cry all you want for Cosworth to return, but the truth is that you’re calling for a faded memory of a company that has moved on.

  6. I’ve always wondered why so much hype on Honda’s latest return to F1. They were treated like they were some kind of saviour for F1 and that it was a given that the Japanese could just push the Europeans to one side based on what they did in the 1980s.

  7. Yeah right – such a successful season. Finishing behind McLaren regularly towards the end of the season. If they were testing it’s understandable and only they know but if not, the power gains they have supposedly made are BS. Reliability isn’t anything to write home about either.

    They sure have given Renault a lot of bulletin board material and Renault seem to be taking note as they are giving up their holiday vacation to be in good shape for the season. I’m sure RIC’s presence is giving them a morale boost as well.
    And now to find out Renault have found more kilowatts themselves – so much for Honda surpassing them.

    It’s not nice to say but if there is any justice, Renault will take it to RBR/Honda and quiet Marko and Horners’s mouths for awhile. And RIC is classy and deserves a good car. VER not so much.

  8. If red bull are super lucky they get close to renault performance out of the hondas. But honda will still have horrible reliability and red bull will have to start from the back in lots of races and game the system to get fresh engines for the tracks they have done better or want to do better. Japan, hungary, mexico, monaco… Worst case scenario red bull drops to division 2 and honda has massive issues supporting two teams instead of one.

    I don’t see a success in 2018 for honda. Couple of good race results don’t mean succesful season. If it does then mclaren had a killer season…

  9. I understand the Verstappen fans hoping desperately that Honda have /will make more (a lot more) progress over the break than Merc, Ferrari and Renault. That somehow Honda will have a (christmas) miracle breakthrough and propel them to the top step of the podium in Melbourne. With Verstappen kissing babies then giving them to Marko so he can eat them.
    But I suspect that reality will be Merc V Ferrari with Renault (hopefully) Moving up a rung. RB/Honda I think will need a little more time.
    Anyway have a good Christmas and new year :)

  10. – Drops from 7th (almost 6th) in the WCC in 2017 to last but one
    – Scores only 5 points after the summer break (0.55 per race) after scoring 28 points in the first 12 races (2.33 per race)
    – Changes engines all the time for ‘tactical reasons’
    – Still has the worst reliability of all teams.
    => ‘Successful season’

    Why does it feel like someone’s trying to sell me a bridge?

    1. The hope is that Honda has learned a great deal throughout 2018. It is not about what they did or didn’t do with STR strictly in terms of points or placings in the standings, it is about what they will take from the things they have R&D’d pu wise that can then be applied to RBR who have much more expertise and resources to run with that. I don’t think their main goal was to outpoint every team possible in 2018, but as a new marriage, to learn and grow with 2019 RBR in mind. Do we judge the Mercedes Pu based on what Williams did in 2018?

      1. Yes but Newey will be pushing the packaging beyond the limit and the stress on the engine in the Red Bull will be more.

        Even if 2018 was a testing year (which it wasn’t fully) there’s only so much that Honda can learn. They certainly have not learned how to stop their engine from failing.

        And they still have the least powerful engine no matter what PR vomit has been said. The engine power was flattered because they went through 16 engines! Therefore having a fresher engine than the rest for more of the time. And the STR doesn’t have as much downforce.

  11. For the sake of F1, I really do hope that Honda and RB will make a winning combo for next year.

    In the same vein, for the sake of my entertainment, I also hope for the opposite. If you think “GP2 Engine” was bad, wait till Max gets his hand on a lemony fresh Honda…folks at Sakura will yearn for the return of Alonso!

  12. Honda are dire.

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