Part Two: Pushing on

After a steady start, the Team started to turn up the wick in the second quarter of the 2019 season. Here’s part two of our season review.

Round Six. Monaco Grand Prix, Circuit de Monte Carlo, Max P4, Pierre P5

Monaco has been a happy hunting ground for us in the past: first podium, three wins on the bounce in the V8 era, first pole of the hybrid era and victory last year. But success on the streets of Monte Carlo requires the best chassis in the field, and back in May, we still hadn’t quite climbed back up onto that perch. Nevertheless, Max piloted the RB15 to its highest starting position of the year to date with third, while Pierre was fifth – but demoted to eighth on the grid for blocking earlier in the session. Monaco was its usual procession. Slick work in the pit stop allowed Max to get past Valtteri Bottas for P2, though this was deemed an unsafe release – harshly, say the crew, given their safe release marker is upstream of Bottas’ box – and Max was demoted at the finish to P4. Pierre, meanwhile, had a snorting race, undercutting many of his rivals, setting the fastest lap and finishing P5.  

Round Seven. Canadian Grand Prix, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Max P5, Pierre P8

We’ll have better Canadian Grands Prix than this one. The RB15 wasn’t particularly happy on the medium-low downforce Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and, as a result, neither were the drivers – though Max’s smudge on the new paintwork at the Wall of Champions during FP2 had more to do with dirty air than dodgy grip. Key to success in the race was the ability to start on the medium tyre. Max tried, failed, and qualified P11; dragging himself back up to P5 in the race. Pierre went with the soft rubber, qualified P5 but dropped back to P8, having been forced into a very long stint on the hard tyre. After the race, Max said he was going to finish P5 wherever he started from – the car simply didn’t have the pace. 

Round Eight. French Grand Prix, Circuit Paul Ricard, Max P4, Pierre P10

The French Grand Prix was a bit of a snoozefest (at least for anyone watching on TV, there was a much better race going on live). The top four on the grid all qualified out of Q2 on the Medium tyre, all ran the same strategy and finished in the order they started, consigning Max to another fourth place. In his home grand prix, Pierre went through Q2 on the soft tyre and was once again condemned to running an uncomfortable strategy, eventually classified P10. The weather was nice though. 

Round Nine. Austrian Grand Prix, Red Bull Ring, Max P1, Pierre P7

Everyone remembers Max started on the front row at the Red Bull Ring, and everyone remembers he took the lead with a fairly robust pass on Charles Leclerc on lap 69 of 71. What everyone tends to forget is that Max was bogged down on the grid and fell back to P8 before launching into one of the great recovery drives. The grandstands – many of which were decidedly orange – went wild when he crossed the line. Max also grabbed the point for fastest lap, for good measure. It was also Honda’s first F1 victory since 2006. Helluva good day on home turf. 

Round 10. British Grand Prix, Silverstone. Pierre P4, Max P5

The name’s Bull. Red Bull – but for the British Grand Prix we had James Bond branding on the car, and the drivers raced in something that from a distance looked like dinner jackets complete with bow tie. After the highs of Austria, the Team came back down to earth with a gentle thud, with Pierre finishing P4, his best result for the Team, and Max P5. It could have been so much better, had Max not been rammed by Sebastian Vettel after taking P3. On the positive side, we obviously have a very effective rear crash structure and the crew set a new pit stop world record of 1.91s for Pierre. Also, the Aston Martin Valkyrie, broke cover to do a demonstration lap. 

Round 11. German Grand Prix, Hockenheim. Max P1, Pierre P14

There’s a lot of science involved in F1. Telemetry is collected, data is studied, strategies are deployed and executed. And some days, that all goes out of the window and you simply hang on tight and hope it turns out alright. Hockenheim one of those. It was wet this year, the difficult sort of wet where the weather can’t make up its mind. As is often the case in the wet, Max found grip where nobody else could, freakishly good at judging the conditions better than anyone else. Despite bogging down at the start, he took the lead on lap 30 and never looked like letting it go. He also took fastest lap, and the crew’s Silverstone World Record pitstop lasted all of two weeks, before they dropped it to 1.88s here. They had a lot of practice: Max won with a distinctly non-traditional five-stop strategy, going Wet-Inter-Medium-Inter-Inter-Soft, aided and abetted by a couple of safety cars. 

Round 12. Hungarian Grand Prix, Hungaroring. Max P2, Pierre P6

At the 93rd time of asking, Max’s first pole position took everyone by surprise – mostly because everyone assumed he’d already had a couple. Pipping Valtteri Bottas to P1 by just eighteen-thousandth of a second gave him an excellent chance of making it two-in-a-row on the notoriously difficult-passing-Hungaroring. But, in a season where conventional wisdom hasn’t played much part, it didn’t work out that way. Max led until four laps from home, only to lose the lead to a two-stopping Lewis Hamilton. The pair of them had pulled out a comfortable pit gap ahead of the field, giving Lewis, effectively, a risk-free pit stop. After losing the lead, Max took another stop himself, and the consolation of the point for fastest lap. It wasn't the result we wanted, but we go into the summer break with good signs of progress for the second half of the year.