Part One: Start of Something Beautiful

Maybe the 2019 season is still fresh in the mind – and maybe it isn’t. Here’s what we did way back when the season was young.

Formula One had a lot of new beginnings for the Team in 2019. It was our first season with a new engine supplier and our first year since 2006 without an Australian driver. Many other things stayed the same, however: we had poles and victories, trophies, near misses and the occasional whiff of controversy.

Development, as usual, was frenetic. Honda horsepower and reliability were a real bonus and, while the results were similar to 2018, given the inevitable architectural challenges of the new partnership, it felt like real progress, pretty much from day one…

Round One. Australian Grand Prix, Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit (aka Albert Park). Max P3, Pierre P11

However much testing the Team does over winter – and in the modern era it’s barely any at all – there’s always a mix of trepidation and excitement arriving at the first race… and that goes double when it’s a packed Albert Park. We didn’t give Pierre a great debut with the Team. A miscalculation left him in the garage during Q1, believing his first time was good enough to get through. He was eliminated and started P17. Albert Park’s a tough place at which to overtake, and Pierre finished P11. For Max, however, things were a lot rosier. Having qualified P4, he finished P3, harrying Lewis Hamilton all the way to the line. A podium represented a great return for the RB15 in our first race as a Honda-powered team. The crew also started the season bang-on form with the two fastest pit stops. No winter cobwebs to blow away in Melbourne. 

Round Two. Bahrain Grand Prix, Bahrain International Circuit. Max P4, Pierre P8

Some circuits play to your strengths, others prey on your weaknesses. Bahrain hasn’t been particularly good to us in recent years and, heading for the Gulf at the start of this year, we weren’t expecting it to get much better. A first double-points finish of the season was a reasonable return from a circuit with too much stop-start to really suit the RB15. Max’s fourth place may well have translated into third, had a late-race safety car not halted his progress. And the crew were once again the fastest guns in the pit lane.

Round Three. Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai International Circuit. Max P4, Pierre P6

We arrived for F1’s 1000th Grand Prix pretty sure of our place in the order of things. Despite a podium in Oz, we were a little bit behind Ferrari and Mercedes but closer to them than we were to the midfield teams battling for P4. Max and Pierre duly qualified fifth and sixth. It may have been better than that but, not for the last time in 2019, Q3 ended on a bum note, with neither driver getting over the line in time to attempt a second flying lap. Max did a good job to convert P5 on the grid into P4 in the race, while Pierre finished where he started – though he did score our first-ever fastest lap point. The crew also recorded the fastest pit stop for the third race in a row. 

Round Four. Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Baku City Circuit. Max P4, Pierre DNF

Perhaps not one for the scrapbook. FP1 in Azerbaijan was cancelled after a drain cover came loose and race control decided they wanted to inspect the welds on all the others around the 6km Baku City Circuit. Things didn’t improve in FP2 when Pierre missed the weighbridge signal and was automatically required to start the race from the pit lane as a result. It perhaps didn’t matter as, in the final third of the race, he retired with a driveshaft failure – our only mechanical DNF of the season. The subsequent safety car revealed an interesting facet of 2019’s tyre, in that the worn rubber really didn’t want to switch back on after cooling down. That halted Max’s charge and consigned him to P4 for the third race in a row. Given that it’s his least-favourite finishing position it seems inevitable that he’ll finish here more often than anywhere else – but three in a row seems unduly cruel. 

Round Five. Spanish Grand Prix, Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya. Max P3, Pierre P6

The start of the European season had us back on our old stomping ground from winter testing – but with a very different vibe in the place, and not just because our new Red Bull F1 Energy Station was unveiled. Having taken a deliberately conservative approach with the RB15 at the start of the season, the Team was now starting to nip, tuck and generally turn up the wick. The drivers started P4 and P6, with Max very happy to split the Ferraris. He was even happier to be able to dive through and take P3 at the start and hold it all the way to the flag for our second trophy of the year. Christian Horner described him as a ‘metronome’. We’re fairly sure that was a compliment.