The 2018 Formula 1 season will be one to watch for fans of Red Bull, not only due to the on-track performances their drivers showed this season but the development of the Honda power unit by Toro Rosso next year.
After all four Red Bull cars (those of the main factory team and Scuderia Toro Rosso) and their various drivers had numerous retirements throughout the season, all fingers were pointing at Renault to take the blame for the power unit failures.
In an unexpected trade deal, McLaren is swapping their Honda units for the Toro Rosso’s Renault in 2018 before the top-flight Red Bull team takes up the Japanese hand grenade in 2019.
While many fans of the teams, mainly Toro Rosso, see this as a major backwards step, their employment of two gun drivers will be giving them the best chance to succeed.
First up, there’s the French flyer Pierre Gasly, the young prodigy who won the 2016 GP2 (now Formula 2) series before narrowly missing out on the Super Formula title this year, earning him the honour of being promoted to F1 at the Malaysian Grand Prix to replace Danill Kvyat.
The biggest signing for fans of drivers from the Southern Hemisphere is that of New Zealander Brandon Hartley, the reigning Le Mans and World Endurance Champion who was orphaned after Porsche decided to pull the plug on prototype racing.
Both drivers are quick and bring a wealth of talent to Toro Rosso but they also provide experience from both ends of the spectrum with respect to setting up and importantly developing the car plus the precious power unit.
Gasly has spent his last few years doing sprint races, putting strain on the car when it counts but having to be conservative when it matters during a race.
Hartley too has experience with working out how to perfect the balancing act between going 100% and backing off to make it to the end; he is a champion at Le Mans after all.
Both of these young Turks have the ability to make a major difference in the series as a whole, let alone their team, especially when you factor in what is at stake in the future.
Their development of the Honda units comes at a critical time, helping the main team get their head around it before the troubled child is bolted in to the main Red Bull car in 2019.
If the Honda unit experiences as many issues as it has for McLaren in the past few seasons, it will send Red Bull in to a state of panic, not least to mention their young star Max Verstappen.
The Dutchman has set the championship with three wins so far in his short career and has signed on to stay at his team until the end of 2019 while his team-mate, Australian Daniel Ricciardo, will likely be moving on at the end of next season when his contract runs out.
As has been the case in the past for Formula 1 teams but not as often in recent times, it’ll be down to the junior team to head development while the main team watches on with bated breath to see if their gamble will pay off.
Images via Red Bull Content Pool