Max Verstappen’s wheel-banging victory against Charles Leclerc in Austria will go down in history as far more than just an exciting race.
It very well might also be the win that saved Honda from scrapping its Formula One program.
Sources close to Honda informed SPEED SPORT that Honda’s board of directors had stipulated that a Honda-powered car had to win at least one grand prix before their next board meeting at the end of July, or Honda would pull the plug on F-1.
Verstappen and Red Bull-Honda delivered the goods in Austria, after he muscled his way past Leclerc’s Ferrari with three laps to go in the race.
But Honda’s F-1 future is still not fully secured. A second win by October will guarantee that Honda remains. If that victory does not occur, the board will reexamine its F-1 aspirations in October and then make a decision about future plans.
Honda vice president Seiji Kuraishi attended the Austrian Grand Prix as a guest of the Red Bull team. It was a fortunate coincidence, because Kuraishi is one of the board members who has reservations about Honda’s F-1 program.
In retrospect, the winning team should have sent Kuraishi up to the podium to accept the winning constructors’ trophy, as this would have been a signal of Honda’s support of its F-1 program.
As it was, Toyoharu Tanabe – the technical director and boss of Honda F-1 – received the trophy.
“Of course this result encourages the members of our development team,” Tanabe said, “but from the beginning of the season we could really see a big gap to Mercedes and Ferrari. Austria was okay, we were strong, but for the next race I cannot guarantee we’ll be a strong as Austria, or that we’ll have the same competitiveness compared with the others.
“It means we need to keep pushing very hard, to get the confidence that we are strong and that when we’ll make no mistakes we will win.”
Honda permitted Verstappen to use the maximum power setting for the latter part of the race. That, of course, put extra strain on the power unit which means it is doubtful that it will be able to survive for the full eight-race span – the rules limit a driver to just three power units for the season.
If Verstappen has to use a fourth power unit, he will have to start that race from the back of the grid.
Such a penalty, however, would be a tiny price to pay for the victory that might well ensure that Honda remains in F-1.