What's driving the Red Bull-Honda partnership?

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Unless you're a seasoned F1 veteran, you probably associate the name Honda with failure. It will take a while to change that perception, assuming they stay on the scene long enough to turn around the situation.

How did we end up with a Red Bull-Honda pairing? And what are the implications? 

Why did Red Bull agree to Honda power?

Even before Renault rejoined the grid as a works team, their relationship with Red Bull was beginning to fracture. Despite helping Red Bull deliver four consecutive drivers' and constructors' championships between 2010 - 2013, they fell behind the front-runners as we entered the hybrid era.

Red Bull were vocal in their displeasure with Renault's performance at the time. When Renault took the reigns of the ailing Lotus F1 team, Red Bull started looking around for an alternative supplier, fearing that Renault's entry as a team meant their spiteful history would come back to bite them.

Unfortunately, being such a difficult partner, and given their dominance in recent times, Mercedes and Ferrari closed their doors on any potential partnerships.

When Honda returned to F1 as an engine supplier, McLaren negotiated a deal that ensured exclusive supply of power units. If Honda could deliver on their glory days, McLaren would be finally be able to challenge their main rivals, and without fear of one of them gaining engine parity. Sadly, those glory days never arrived. 

With Mercedes, Ferrari and increasingly Renault unwilling to supply engines to Red Bull, and Honda locked into a exclusive agreement with McLaren, the possibility of them being unable to compete was becoming a real possibility. This lead the FIA to adjust the rules to ensure that all teams could access a supply of engines, immunizing teams from toxic relationships with suppliers (even if they had caused the situation themselves).

Now that the McLaren-Honda partnership is in the rear-vision mirror, Red Bull have been able to assess the true potential of Honda through their affiliation with Toro Rosso. This was a lifeline for Honda, and sticking around has blossomed into their Red Bull relationship which will hopeful bare fruit next year.

Can Honda improve?

Naturally, everyone can improve, the more relevant question is "Will Red Bull be competitive next year?" That's more difficult to predict.

Toro Rosso's performance has certainly improved over last season, however part of this is due to their access to current engines as opposed to last year where they used the previous year's power units. 

Red Bull clearly think they won't be able to win championships with an engine from Mercedes or Ferrari, who will always have a performance advantage due to optimal engines modes and harmony between the chassis and power unit. Their hopes are firmly pinned on Honda, the only engine supplier with no invested interest in helping another team beat them.

Add to that how far behind Red Bull the similarly powered McLaren have been this season, and you could conclude that Honda might have been the scapegoat for at least some of the team's performance issues in recent years.

In the short-term, Red Bull will be hoping that Honda can help them keep pace with the front-runners. If not, they'll at least deliver a stop-gap until the new engine regulations are introduced in 2021, which are rumoured to be attracting even more engine suppliers into the mix.

What will it mean for Ricciardo?

Before a Honda powered Red Bull even turns a wheel, Daniel Ricciardo will need to decide his future with the team.

When Mark Webber was in his twilight years with Red Bull, he stayed with them (despite offers to join Ferrari) because they offered the best chance to win. This isn't the case for Ricciardo.

Although it was thought that a seat might be opening up with Raikkonen leaving Ferrari next year, rumours now suggest that will be filled by rising star Charles Leclerc. This could be because Ricciardo has made up his mind about staying at Red Bull, or because Ferrari want to double-down on Vettel as their outright number 1 driver. Remember, Ricciardo unceremoniously put Vettel in the shade when they were teammates, after all.

Which leaves at least one or possibly two seats vacant at Mercedes. This would be Ricciardo's best chance at winning a championship in the short term. He could replace Valtteri Bottas, who has served as an admirable wingman for Hamilton, but doesn't seem up to the job of winning championships. Alternatively, if Lewis Hamilton decides he'd rather focus on his clothes brand/music career/party life then Ricciardo could even lead the team, regardless of who sits in the sister car. 

Although Nico Rosberg showed that beating Hamilton is possible in 2016, Hamilton has come back from it even stronger and with the real threat from Vettel and Ferrari is keeping him honest. 

As exciting as the prospect of Ricciardo moving teams and being a true championship contender is, the most likely outcome will be that he stays at Red Bull for another season to see how things evolve. 

Confirming this are his comments to the press this week:

“It is easy to think the grass is greener,” he said when speaking to the media in France on Thursday. “Maybe it is. I also have it pretty good where I am.

“People do like a change. That’s always appealing. But just to make a change for the sake of making a change, that won’t be enough for me. I need to find some substance behind it if I’m going to jump ship.”

So a change of overalls may not be in Ricciardo's future after all.

Canadian GP power rankings

 Everyone: Monaco was so boring! Canada: Hold my beer...

Everyone: Monaco was so boring! Canada: Hold my beer...

After Monaco numerous drivers were noticeably vocal about the lack of action. Despite that, there was a non-dominant race winner, and another driver charging from the back of the pack. Canada didn't even offer that, with little to write home about after the first few laps. You know it's a slow race when the podium drivers are the three singled out for putting in a good drive, and so it goes.

Moving on up

Sebastian Vettel delivered Ferrari their first win in Canada since the all-conquering Michael Schumacher days. Not only that, but with his closest title competitor absent from the podium, he sits 1 point clear in the drivers' championship. This kind of result was unthinkable just a few weeks ago, when Hamilton seemed to be turning his season around. 

Valtteri Bottas wasn't quick enough to win after starting from P2, but the fact that he hung on to the leader will hurt Hamilton, who it seems just didn't show up this weekend. The result puts him back into 3rd in the standings ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, and keeps his slim championship hopes alive (how's THAT for optimism!).

Max Verstappen FINALLY delivered the race for which we've all been waiting. Not tempted with the early aggression of Valtteri Bottas (the two made slight contact but nothing race-ending), Verstappen kept his head and delivered a podium result. It's notable because he has copped so much criticism for not delivering solid, Ricciardo-esque finishes, that questions about his lack of form lead to him threatening to head-butt the next journalist to bring it up. At least he'll silence the critics, and shooed away the monkey that had clung to his back since the start of the season. 

Back-sliding

Sergio Perez made light contact with Carlos Sainz and lost a handful of places, which triggered a fall down the grid that left him well-behind his teammate and the equally paced Renault drivers. His radio outburst that Sainz should be "black-flagged" (disqualified) is perhaps the most ludicrous examples of a driver blurting things out in the heat of the moment that we've had all year. 

Lance Stroll lost control of his Williams (assuming he had it in the first place) on the opening lap and sent both himself and Brendon "Big Heart" Hartley out of the race. It not only wrecked his chances of a good result at home, where he scored his first points in F1 last year, but ruined any hope that Hartley had of impressing his team amidst rumours he could soon be replaced. 

Chequered flag officials (hint, not the person holding the flag) who had trouble remembering the correct protocol, and officially ended the race early. Although the drivers continued on and finished the designated number of laps, it cost Daniel Ricciardo the fastest lap honours, with the spoils officially going to his teammate.

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Monaco GP power rankings

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Although some were left unimpressed by the action on track in Monaco, we've had far worse races in recent years. With a limping Red Bull at the front, another charging through the midfield and Formula 1's most luxurious surroundings, the race promised to be a satisfying venture for those paying attention.

Moving on up

Pierre Gasly backed up his impressive performance in Bahrain by not only finishing in the points at the most challenging circuit on the calendar, but sneaking in to Q3 on Saturday and leaving his teammate for dust. 

Esteban Ocon slotted in to P6 as the best of the rest, delivering for his team after teammate Sergio Perez had a troubled race that left him in P12. Ocon is the quiet achiever of the F1 paddock, and despite being a smooth, classy and.... tall driver he continues to impress and could peak at the perfect time 

Daniel Ricciardo bossed the entire weekend, and closed the loop on an injustice two years in the making. Did you think we weren't going to mention him? Taking his seventh career victory in an under-powered car, he brings himself inline with Rene Arnoux and Juan Pablo Montoya, and looks set to overtake Mark Webber—who has 9 victories—this year, if not next (but with which team?).

Back-sliding

Max Verstappen might have pulled off the most overtakes during the race, but his crash in practice which destroyed his chances of qualifying with the front-runners. At one of the only tracks at which Red Bull had an opportunity to lead from the front, he threw away a huge load of points, and extended his run of errors and incidents, making this year the worst of his short career. 

Lance Stroll joined Charles Leclerc for making the highlight reel for all the wrong reasons. Unlike Leclerc who had a genuine brake issue, Stroll made a clumsy manoeuvre and damaged his front wing and copped a front-left puncture for good measure. At first I would have guessed he clipped the exist of the nouvelle chicane, but even worse to drive straight into the back of another driver is a blemish on his race.

Surprise reaction that Monaco is boring, come on people. F1 cars has out-grew the circuit forty years ago, we've been #blessed to have eventfully races in recent times, but to suddenly realise that Monaco is a snoozer just makes everyone look ignorant.

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Spanish GP power rankings

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Welcome to the European season! With so many changes in the air, we're pulling one ourselves with the introduction of the "power rankings" (aka, the ratings formerly known as Winners and Losers).

In a lacklustre race, let's review who's hot and who's not.

Moving on up

Lewis Hamilton looked like the reigning champion of old, taking a commanding pole position and controlling the race from lights to flag. Extending his lead over his main rival, it finally looks like Hamilton's championship challenge is hitting its stride.

Max Verstappen managed to put together a complete weekend for the first time this year, and was rewarded with a (unexpected?) podium. Despite almost losing his front wing behind Lance Stroll on the VSC restart, he kept his nose metaphorically and literally clean for the rest of the race and hopefully gets himself out of the dog house.

Charles Leclerc delivered Sauber their second successive points finish, with the current-gen Ferrari engines powering them to another impressive result. In fact, when the only downside from your weekend was that you forgot how doors work, things are going pretty well. 

Back-sliding

Ferrari are the talking point of the race, with their questionable decision to stop for fresh Medium tyres during the VSC. A dodgy stop didn't help, and Vettel tumbled from a steady 2nd position to 4th and never recovered. Although Vettel defended the move, it seems all teams were expecting to two-stop, and Mercedes shifting to a one-stop meant Bottas was unlikely to attack. Whether it was a strategic or technical set-up issue, these are points Vettel can't afford to lose.

Romain Grosjean just can't seem to keep it together. His first-lap spin wiped out a number of other cars and earned him a three-spot grid drop for next race. Although he has claimed there was little he could do, it does raise a question mark over the guy formerly labelled a "first-lap nutcase". Like Verstappen, after a series of incidents in successive races, he needs to pull his head in and get a decent result. Soon.

▼ Twitter's post-race show launched after the race, and although it was their inaugural effort, it leaves a lot to be desired. After many attempts, we finally got the show to load, but having missed most of the action the content was underwhelming, pulling audiences around the 7,000 mark. Add to this the complication of how users will actually find the content in the first place, and it becomes clear there's still plenty of work to do.

Honorable mention: F1 TV Pro launched to mixed reviews, with users reporting low-pixelation and drop outs throughout the weekend. A rocky start for a service that delayed its launch to work out the bugs.

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Ricciardo points the finger, hints at future team orders after Baku crash

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As expected, as drivers hit the track ahead of the Spanish GP there was only one real topic of discussion: What happened at Red Bull after their drivers took each other out in Azerbaijan?

Ricciardo hasn't wasted any time, saying he had a gap that was taken away from him, leaving him a passenger and unable to influence the crash.

From RaceFans.net's coverage

“I definitely committed early enough and, at the time, with a clear inside,” said Ricciardo. “I’m then on the brakes and when you get the air taken away, you could see I tried to pull out of it but there was no real escape route after that.

“You lose all downforce and everything. Even the brakes, they lock a lot easier when you don’t have the downforce on. That was like the end result but it was due to that inside closing up.”

His comments would suggest that either the team agrees with his assessment of the incident, or at least hasn't told their drivers that they can't talk openly about it.

Although all angles have been considered, from what the drivers could have done to what the team could have done, the only clear takeaway from the comments is that all parties are doing their best to avoid inflammatory comments that escalate the situation.

Interestingly, Ricciardo has come of these discussions with the impression that — if the situation were to happen again — the team may use team orders to control the situation.

“I think if it got to that point again where there’s banging wheels and stuff then [they would]. Especially if the car [behind] is faster then you’d probably expect at some point they’ll [say] swap cars and release one of them. There’s no guarantee but that was one thing they certainly talked about.”

Perhaps it's because Verstappen is committed to the team for the coming years, while Ricciardo is shopping his services around, but the previous agreements where the faster driver is released with the understanding that if they don't progress up the field the position is given back seem like a distant memory.