Honda left ‘very surprised’ by ‘unbelievable’ Red Bull as key partnership nears end

Oliver Harden
Max Verstappen behind the wheel of the Red Bull RB20 in F1 pre-season testing in Bahrain

Max Verstappen behind the wheel of the Red Bull RB20 in F1 pre-season testing in Bahrain

Honda have admitted they were “very surprised” by the extent of Red Bull’s changes to the RB20 car for the F1 2024 season after a dominant 2023 campaign.

Red Bull produced the most dominant season in F1 history last year, winning 21 of a possible 22 races as Max Verstappen (19 victories) eased to a third successive World Championship.

Honda amazed by Red Bull RB20 revolution for F1 2024

Rather than evolving what they had for F1 2024, however, the Constructors’ Champions pursued a new concept with the RB20 with the aim of sustaining their advantage over the opposition amid concerns of diminishing returns in the third season of the ground effect rules.

The gamble has paid off handsomely, with Red Bull opening the new campaign with four victories – including three one-two finishes for Verstappen and Sergio Perez – in the opening five races.

Koji Watanabe, the president of the Honda Racing Corporation, has revealed the Japanese manufacturer was blown away by Red Bull’s decision to take a different direction with the RB20 after the team’s crushing 2023 success.

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He told Motorsport.com: “For this year’s Red Bull car, we were very surprised to see that they changed so much for the RB20.

“Last year we won 21 out of the 22 races together, but they still changed the concept. It is unbelievable!

“They made a lot of requests to adapt our engine to the new concept for the RB20.

“After we saw the RB20 in real life we were so surprised by all the changes that they made.”

Elements of the RB20, most notably the car’s tiny sidepod inlets, have drawn comparisons to the Mercedes zero-pod design of 2022/23.

Mr Watanabe has revealed the role Honda played in allowing Red Bull to enforce their big changes for the new season, with a focus on making the power unit more reliable for F1 2024 against the backdrop of the current engine-freeze restrictions.

He explained: “Of course, we cannot increase the power, but we can adapt the engine to the new machine.

“Apart from that, we can also improve the reliability of the engine. That is what we have done over the past winter.

“This has given Red Bull more freedom for their design and for their aerodynamic concept. That is why they could change the position of the oil coolers, radiators, etcetera.

“Sometimes last year we had a risk to damage the power unit that did not become big trouble in the end, but we always need to minimise the risk.

“That is why we have made our best effort to improve the reliability of the engine even further for this year.”

Red Bull were rocked on Wednesday morning by the news that legendary designer Adrian Newey, who has orchestrated much of the their success over their last two decades, will leave the team in early 2025.

Newey is rumoured to have received contract offers from Ferrari and Aston Martin, with whom Honda will join forces in time for F1’s next rules reset in 2026.

Read next: Adrian Newey’s gardening leave explained: How F1 legend will spend his final days at Red Bull