McLaren F1 Team endured three troublesome pre-season campaigns with Honda from 2015 to 2017, with the frustrated figures of Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Stoffel Vandoorne only managing a handful of laps on any one run, with some days seeing no running whatsoever.
However, Honda have produced an evolution of their engine concept from last year, siding against starting afresh for 2018. Word from key personnel at Toro Rosso is that the Italian team are delighted with the early workings with Honda, but Key maintains that reliability will be the crux in their first works engine deal.
“I think [reliability] makes a huge difference.” Key told RACER.
“It works both for us and Honda as a team together, it’s important for both of us to have that situation.”
Key noted that getting a current-spec engine provides a step into the unknown, with the engine having left no previous performance benchmark – unlike the older Ferrari and Renault Sport spec units used in previous years.
“When we ran the 2015 Ferrari engine in 2016, that was a very well-established engine. It had done an entire season; all of its issues had been ironed out and as a result we got an extremely reliable unit and we were able to do absolutely tons of winter testing.”
Whilst their partnership with Ferrari worked well, Toro Rosso struggled with Renault. Their 2014 and 2017 testing periods were ruined by poor reliability, and Key knows that the effects of missing running can hamper the first few races of the season.
“We have had different experiences!” he said.
“Last year I think we did half the amount of mileage and in 2014 we did a tiny amount of mileage and that was all power unit-related, so I think it matters a great deal.
“Let’s see where we are – it matters of course very much to Honda too, so hopefully at that point it will be OK. There could be teething problems with certain things but that’s what testing is for. You never know, but that is the target for both sides.”
Toro Rosso will launch their 2018 challenger at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona on 26 February, the day of the first official four day winter test.