Red Bull confirmed ahead of this week’s French Grand Prix that they are divorcing from Renault, a partnership which yielded eight drivers’ and constructors’ championships, at the end of the year.
Red Bull’s relationship with the French manufacturer has turned sour in recent seasons, and the former world champions believe a move to Honda power for the next two years will provide them with their best chance of usurping Mercedes and Ferrari.
Daniel Ricciardo, a two-time winner for Red Bull this season, is out of contract at the end of the year, while Dutchman Max Verstappen, 20, is tied down to the team for at least another two seasons.
Horner said: “This multi-year agreement with Honda signals the start of an exciting new phase in Aston Martin Red Bull Racing’s efforts to compete not just for grand prix wins but for what is always our goal – championship titles.
“We have always taken decisions such as this dispassionately and with only one criteria in mind – do we believe the outcome will allow us to compete at a higher level.
“After careful consideration and evaluation we are certain this partnership with Honda is the right direction for the team.”
McLaren blamed Honda for their miserable failings in recent years, and paid roughly £60million to severe ties with the Japanese manufacturer midway through their long-term deal.
But the British team’s troubles have deepened this season, despite switching to Renault engines, while Honda’s stock has risen since they teamed up with Red Bull’s junior team Toro Rosso.
Horner added: “We have been impressed by Honda’s commitment to F1, by the rapid steps they have made in recent times with our sister team Toro Rosso, and by the scope of their ambition, which matches our own.
“We look forward to working with Honda in the coming years and to racing together in pursuit of F1’s biggest prizes.”
Sebastian Vettel won four consecutive championships as Red Bull proved the sport’s dominant force between 2010 and 2013, but the Milton Keynes team has been off the pace of both Mercedes and Ferrari in the hybrid era.
Red Bull have closed the gap to the top two teams this year, however, and in Ricciardo and Verstappen boast arguably the best driver pairing on the grid.
Ricciardo, 28, is interested in a move to Mercedes or Ferrari, but it is probable that Valtteri Bottas will be retained alongside Lewis Hamilton by the former. Vettel meanwhile, is unlikely to want the Australian to challenge his number one status at Ferrari.
After demonstrating his and Red Bull‘s superiority in Thursday’s practice sessions, he believes he has the car to deliver pole in Saturday’s qualifying showdown. And from that, a chance to win.
Two years ago, in a dramatic finale, the big-smiling Australian’s Red Bull team bungled a late pit-stop which handed victory to Briton Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes – an experience that still irks and motivates Ricciardo.
“I haven’t forgotten it for sure and it is still there to motivate me,” he said. “It’s the one that got away and I am still looking for some payback on that.”
After dominating opening practice on Thursday ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Dutchman Max Verstappen, Ricciardo was keen to ensure his team remained clear and realistic about their goals.
“I definitely expect all three big teams to be below 1min 12sec (in official qualifying) on Saturday – we set a benchmark and we have stated our intentions. We are here to try and win this race and to be the dominant team,” he said.
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 24, 2018
Ricciardo’s lap in 1:11.841 set a new outright lap record for the Monte Carlo circuit, which appears to suit perfectly Red Bull’s chassis and the pink-walled new ‘hyper-soft’ tyres.
That car advantage, he believes, could be enough to give them an advantage over both Ferrari and Mercedes when they turn up their engine modes to ‘qualifying’ levels on Saturday.
“Our gap from practice to qualifying isn’t normally as big as Ferrari and Mercedes. They will close that gap, definitely. But I feel that if we can put together a really good lap again, we have a chance for pole. And that’s my job for Saturday.”
Thirty years on from the weekend of Ayrton Senna’s celebrated 1988 pole lap for McLaren and 10 years on from Hamilton’s first victory in the Mediterranean principality, Red Bull appeared to be in the mood to smash records as the teams and drivers relaxed on Monaco’s traditional F1 ‘rest’ day on Friday.
Verstappen will be bidding to out-pace his team-mate and the rest to become the youngest pole-sitter in F1 history, a record currently held by four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, who was third for Ferrari on Thursday.
Vettel claimed his pole for Toro Rosso in Italy in 2008 at 21 years and 73 days. Verstappen will not be 21 until September 30 and has a perfect opportunity.
“To make a difference here compared to other drivers, they all think the same, so you have to risk a bit more between the walls,” said the Dutchman. “I haven’t changed and that is my way — to try to extract the most from the car and the track.”
Remarkably, Brazilian Senna’s lap in 1988 lifted him 1.4sec clear of his McLaren team-mate Frenchman Alain Prost on a day that has gone down in F1 folklore.
Equally remarkably, to emphasise the speed for the modern breed of cars, Ricciardo’s lap on Thursday trimmed Senna’s lap time by 12sec.
Such a gap seemed unimaginable in the past, but improved cars, track surfacing and tyres have made it possible and the Red Bull raced around Monte Carlo as if it was on rails.
Hamilton, whose 2008 victory was the first by an Englishman at Monaco since Graham Hill in 1969, may lead the championship from Vettel by 17 points, but he recognises he faces a major challenge.
“We are not so far away as we feared we may be and we are not entirely lost or in the dark about what to do,” he said. “Let’s see what we can do.”
Hamilton was fourth behind Vettel on Thursday, six-tenths adrift of the pace, but he remained hopeful.
Ricciardo, however, and his Red Bull team will not be as helpful, or charitable, if they are leading this Sunday’s race, as they were in 2016.
“Yeah, I am owed this one, I guess,” he laughed. “I don’t want to go through that again.”
Red Bull team chief Christian Horner said his drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen were “in the doghouse” and have been instructed to apologise to all staff following their crash in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
“They both recognise that they screwed up today and will be apologising to the team and to all members of the team,” said Horner, who was left speechless immediately after the pair crashed in the closing laps of Sunday’s chaotic race won by defending world champion Lewis Hamilton.
“We allow them to race and allow them to go wheel-to-wheel. We spoke to them in team meetings about giving each other space.
“This was the culmination of two guys taking things in their own hands, which shouldn’t have happened.
“There were probably three incidents between them through the race. They touched wheels and were told to calm it down.
“We don’t want to interfere with them going wheel-to-wheel. We are not apportioning blame one way or the other, but they are both to blame for this.
“Our intention is to continue to let them race, but they have to show respect and give space. They have been reminded that they are part of a team, they are highly-paid individuals with the team’s interest at heart.
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 29, 2018
“The message was delivered very clearly. They are both in the doghouse. They will apologise to all of the staff before Barcelona.”
Ricciardo and Verstappen were both later given an official reprimand for their collision.
The pair were called to see the stewards after the race and blamed equally for the incident. Both apologised, but they were handed official reprimands for their contributions to the collision.
Verstappen said he and Ricciardo had met and apologised. He said the crash was “unnecessary” but held no grudge against his Australian team-mate.
The 20-year-old Dutchman said: “It’s really disappointing for the team. We lost a lot of points today, unnecessarily.
“I don’t think we need to speak about whose fault it was because at the end of the day we are racing for a team. We are representing a lot of people and when this happens it is just not good for both of us.
“The tow was very strong so as soon as (Daniel) was in front I was catching up again and we were pretty similar speed. We were always very close to each other.”
Verstappen had no complaints about the hard but fair wheel-to-wheel racing that took place before the pair’s clash.
“Before that it was hard racing but fair, we gave each other space. We had this little brush with the wheels but I think in racing that can happen. What happened after that is not good,” he said.
This result is really disappointing for the team. It doesn’t matter who is to blame, it just shouldn’t have happened. So many people are working hard to improve our cars and they deserve an apology #AzerbaijanGP pic.twitter.com/yffvikdQxa
— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) April 29, 2018
“This has happened before and you learn from it. We have to make sure it doesn’t happen again. It’s not only down to us, we speak to the team as well what we will do in the future. I don’t think letting us not race anymore is the way forwards but we will talk about it.”
“Daniel and I are okay with each other,” he said.
“As racing drivers you go through every inch and of course you are not happy when you collide to each other as team-mates but we are very fair to each other so we spoke immediately after the race.”