The engine development made by the Mercedes Formula 1 team over the winter ahead of the 2020 season has left Honda a “little bit surprised”.

Both Honda and Mercedes have introduced engine specification upgrades following the four-month gap caused by the COVID-19 pandemic between the cancelled Australian Grand Prix and new season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.

Mercedes enjoyed a strong start to the campaign by claiming the first pole position and victory of the revised 2020 campaign on offer and also enjoyed a half-a-second buffer over Red Bull in qualifying.

And Red Bull’s significant gap to Mercedes seen in qualifying came as a surprise to its Japanese power unit manufacturer.

“In practice we were seeing what we expected from the dyno, especially on the long runs as well,” Honda F1 manning director Masashi Yamamoto said.

“So everything was as we had planned, but we were surprised by the progress Mercedes has made, especially in qualifying, so we were a little bit surprised by the gap we had to them.”

Max Verstappen has urged Red Bull to keep pushing after admitting that Mercedes has “made bigger steps than us”.

“I think we made big steps but clearly Mercedes made bigger steps than us. We have to keep pushing,” Verstappen said.

“There’s still performance again but not only from the engine also from the car, so we just have to push on both sides to become better.

“But clearly Mercedes has done a really good job over the winter.”

And Verstappen remains confident Red Bull can challenge Mercedes if it finds a few extra tenths.

“If you look at the data, there are not many corners where we are slower,” he added.

“I think most of them were faster, but I wasn’t really happy with the balance throughout the whole corner so from entry to mid-corner and around here you’ve got a bit of confidence to push in high-speed corners.

“We just need to figure out how we can make it a little bit more balanced and then I’m sure we can be closer.

“I don’t say we will beat them in qualifying but if we can be within like two or three-tenths of qualifying, then it’s definitely game on in the race.”

Both Red Bull drivers retired from the opening round in Austria due to engine-related reliability failures, and Honda has subsequently brought “countermeasures” to prevent similar issues this weekend.

 

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