Max Verstappen insists he would be happy to accept grid penalties for engine changes if it means Honda closing the gap to Mercedes and Ferrari at the front of the field, with the Dutchman eager to take the fight to them and fight for pole positions and race victories on a more even playing field.
Red Bull Racing switched to Honda power ahead of the 2019 Formula 1 season and Verstappen has already taken the Japanese engine manufacturer to the podium for the first time since they returned to the sport in 2015, having finished third in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Verstappen, as well as team-mate Pierre Gasly and the two Scuderia Toro Rosso drivers will all take an updated power unit this weekend for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and the Dutchman is happy to accept penalties later in the season if it means a stronger engine for him to utilise on track.
“Actually, I’m really happy because they keep pushing really hard to bring updates and that’s always good,” Verstappen is quoted as saying by Motorsport.com. “I think I showed last year than even when you start in the back you can still finish on the podium, for example like in Austin, so I don’t think it a major problem.
“I’m happier if we can say at the end of the season that we really closed the gap to Mercedes and Ferrari in terms of power because we used a few more engines. It’s fine.”
Verstappen admits he does not expect a major jump in performance with this upgrade as it is primarily focused on reliability, although he hopes that this second engine can be used in more events than the first one.
“It’s mainly just about reliability and reliability of the engine, so I guess it will be a little bit better in terms of performance but like nothing massive,” said Verstappen. “It can always be better. That’s why they push for an even better engine concept.
“I’m happy that they did it because hopefully we can run that engine a little bit longer compared to the first one, which we can still use.”
Verstappen feels Honda has made gains compared to Mercedes, but Ferrari has seemingly extended their advantage, particularly in Qualifying, meaning the Japanese marque will just have to work even harder to bridge that gap at the front of the field.
“It depends where you look at,” said the Dutchman about the pace comparison of Honda compared to their main rivals. “Compared to Mercedes, yes, but compared to Ferrari it’s big, but it’s for everyone. It’s really big. It just seems they did a really good job with something, so you just have to work harder to try to close that gap.
“I think we are closer to Mercedes, but it’s always difficult to really say if it’s better, because everybody is always improving. For our side at the moment is that we are able to maximise the result all the time, which has been a third and twice fourth, without retiring, so that is sometimes more important than maybe gaining a tenth but then breaking down all the time.
“I think in the race in general we are a bit more competitive so again, in qualifying it’s mainly just Ferrari that stands out, like it’s massive. Like I said before, they found something there that really works, so it’s good because it gives motivation to Honda to work even harder, which they do anyway.”