Pierre Gasly will drive for Toro Rosso a final time at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, after a full year with Honda power the Frenchman heads to Red Bull for 2019 when he believes that the Japanese manufacturer will have made make a big step forward with their power unit package.
When the lights are switched off at Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday night the long-standing (problem-packed) partnership between Red Bull and Renault will finally dissolve as the Honda power era dawns for the energy drinks organisation.
The 22-year-old Frenchman, who has massively out-performed teammate Brendon Hartley, is heading to Red Bull next year with a spring in his step, “I am confident that Honda will make another significant step forward.”
Honda have confirmed that development of the 1.6-liter internal combustion engine has been accelerated this year. Penalties were deliberately taken by Toro Rosso as part of their development for 2019 because, in the end, the racetrack is still the best test lab.
The ‘tactics’ to take engine penalties obviously frustrated both Gasly and Hartley during the course of the season but were employed with an eye on developing the power unit package for 2019, when it needs to be at its very best to take on the might of Mercedes and Ferrari who rule the roost in terms of the F1 power stakes.
Gasly revealed, “There is still a gap to Mercedes and Ferrari, but Honda are catching up. The Japanese know that they have to make up ground. I know Honda is doing everything to be as well prepared as possible for 2019. They will make another significant step forward next season.”
As for closing the gap to the big two, Gasly cautioned, “Developments are not always consistent. Sometimes only a few steps forward in months, then a breakthrough comes up on the test-bed, and suddenly the stopwatch shows an improvement of four tenths of a second per lap in the simulation.”
“I think Honda have already made up most of the backlog. I do not expect them to be on par with the other engines at the start of the 2019 season, but they will reach that level because Honda is investing a lot and development in intense,” added Gasly.
Equally upbeat is Gasly’s soon to be teammate Max Verstappen. The young Dutchman has been an outspoken critic of Renault’s weaknesses and cannot wait to sample Honda powered on the back of the Adrian Newey penned RB15.
Verstappen told reporters in Brazil earlier this month, “What we’re saying about Honda is not a lie. We are not just putting something out there for the sake of it. We see the numbers.”
“Of course, everything will depend on the progress our competition makes at the same time. I am realistic and I estimate that we will lag behind in terms of performance at the beginning of the 2019 season.”
“But we will definitely be better off than we are today. Whether that’s enough to get battle at the front we will have to wait and see…” added Verstappen.
Big Question: Will Honda deliver for Red Bull in 2019?