Honda says that, given the lockdown, the speed at which the Mercedes engine has developed has taken them by surprise.
Due to the global pandemic, team factories were officially shut down from April to the start of June. Furthermore, the factories of the engine manufacturer were also closed.
As the sport has implemented a development freeze, meaning the engine specs used at the season opener must be used for the entire year, Honda quickly got to work on updating their power unit as quickly as possible once things re-opened.
“During the suspension period, the FIA and all the power unit manufacturers agreed to have a shutdown period,” Honda’s F1 managing director Masashi Yamamoto told Autosport.
“So we did the shutdown in our factory as well and had to stop development. That meant we had a bit of a change in our development schedule compared to what we originally planned. But we recreated the plan and prepared for the restart in July.
“Due to the regulation change after the COVID-19 pandemic the FIA banned power unit updates during the season, so the first spec that we used in Austria we have to use until the end of the year.
“We originally planned a number of updates during the season, so we had to change that plan and try and put everything together before the Austrian Grand Prix which was the main challenge.”
The Japanese manufacturer was pleased with how their engine performed for Red Bull and AlphaTauri in the first race, both in terms of pace and reliability. However, Yamamoto says that the extent of Mercedes’ engine development took them by surprise.
“In practice we were seeing what we expected from the dyno, especially on the long runs as well,” he added.
“So everything was as we had planned, but we were surprised by the progress Mercedes has made, especially in qualifying, so we were a little bit surprised by the gap we had to them.
“We were behind Mercedes in qualifying, however from the performance in the race we think we can be competitive against them, at least on Sundays. That was positive, but we need to make sure we don’t have the various troubles again.
“There were electrical issues for both cars, so we have been checking all the harnesses and the PU itself as we can.”
It was a disappointing first race weekend back for Red Bull, as both drivers retired with mechanical failures.
However, as neither issue seemed to be caused by the engine, Honda will look at reliability if they need to but will prioritise the development of the 2021 power unit.
“We will work on reliability if we think we need to, but because we cannot do anything about performance we are now focusing our development onto the 2021 power unit, which will be the same as everybody else. That’s the attitude we will take from now on.
“After finishing the first round we saw some issues of course, especially our performance in qualifying which is something we have to try and improve somehow within the regulations.
“But we were able to see a good performance in the race and we think we can compete against Mercedes, so we just want to continue constantly competing against them this season, that’s our target.”
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