A one-two finish in Brazil for Honda powered Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly, with the Frenchman even managing to keep Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton behind in a drag race to the finish line. But even looking back to the Saturday’s qualifying session, the #33 Red Bull car secured its second (third) poleposition of the year and the number #10 Toro Rosso classified as ‘best of the rest’.
There’s no doubt about the massive improvements made by Honda both power-wise and in reliability, but the phonometric datas collected by Motorsport.com in Brazil proved the japanese engine to still be behind Mercedes and Ferrari.
Charles Leclerc’s new power-unit gained about 10 BHP over Vettel and Hamilton’s ones, which were pretty even.
Verstappen’s Honda closed the gap a bit but was still 25 BHP away from the top.
This last update brought the speed difference down to a very thin margin, nevertheless Pierre Gasly managed to fend off Lewis Hamilton on the last straight. How was it possible?
The speed delta had nothing to do with the Mercedes’ damanged front wing. Lewis Hamilton immediately stated that “the steering was pointing a bit on the right [after the contact with Albon], but everything else was fine”.
The first reason is in the mileage of the power-units. Both Red Bull and –even more- Toro Rosso started the 2019 season already knowing they would have gone for four engines during the season. The average shorter life span of each would have increased performances and also reliability, making the certain grid penalty a price worth to be paid.
Moreover, this year Honda has decided to carbon-copy a pecularity of the 2018 Renault engine: the supercharger. Bigger than the average, the japanese supercharger provides Red Bull and Toro Rosso with more power when air is rarefied. That’s why Red Bull has always shun at Interlagos (760 metres over the sea level) and in Mexico (2250 m).
On the other hand, Ferrari and Mercedes have decided to give up some power on the heights, to squeeze the maximum out of their engines in the other races.