As Daniel Ricciardo settles into another new season at another new team, his old employer appears to be in its best position since 2013 following another marked improvement from its Honda power unit.
Red Bull has been dominated by Mercedes since 2014, which coincided with the beginning of F1’s hybrid era and the moment Ricciardo was promoted to the team.
After years of poor performance from its Renault power unit, Red Bull switched to Honda at the end of 2018 — but saw Ricciardo walk out of the door to its engine manufacturer’s works team.
Now, after two seasons of progress, the Honda power unit is “very, very close” to that of Mercedes, according to Franz Tost, team boss of Red Bull sister team, AlphaTauri.
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Honda — which will hand the power unit’s development keys to Red Bull at the end of the season — introduced a new engine in 2021 which is smaller and more powerful.
“I must say Honda did a fantastic job in Sakura, because this new power unit is much more powerful and better drivable as it was in the past,” Tost told motorsport.com.
“I think that Honda is really very, very close to Mercedes. And I can only say thank you to the Japanese engineers, because they did a fantastic job.”
Max Verstappen was certainly reaping the benefits at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix last weekend, where he claimed pole but narrowly lost the race to Lewis Hamilton by less than a second.
He had at one stage taken the race lead but was forced to give back the position for exceeding track limits — something which Hamilton was found to have done 29 times at Turn 4 without penalty.
Meanwhile, Ricciardo finished seventh, although it was revealed after the race that he had damage to the floor of his car after contact with Pierre Gasly.
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His McLaren teammate, Lando Norris, finished fourth — but was more than 45 seconds adrift of Hamilton and Verstappen.
Ricciardo opted to join McLaren at the end of 2020, saying he felt the team was in a better position than Renault as F1’s seismic rule changes in 2022 draw near.
McLaren has made strong progress over the past two years and is considered F1’s third-best team; a label it hopes to solidify this season after signing a contract to use Mercedes power units.
The pace of Red Bull and Verstappen, however, would suggest Ricciardo could be competing for race wins if he had stayed put.
Nonetheless, there is hope that next year’s technical and sporting regulations will play into his hands long term.