MELBOURNE, Australia — Red Bull has taken a cheeky swipe at two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso, tweeting the Spaniard’s infamous ‘Now we can fight!’ message after claiming third place at the Australian Grand Prix on its first race with Honda power.
The now-retired Alonso first shouted those words in Melbourne 12 months ago when he finished fifth for McLaren, still the team’s best result since 2013. That race was McLaren’s first since dumping Honda for Renault power, and Alonso’s remark was essentially a dig at the Japanese engine supplier who in previous years had underperformed.
McLaren failed to live up to its early-season promise, however, and its campaign soon unraveled as the team wound up finishing seventh in the constructors’ championship, meaning Alonso’s declaration has not aged particularly well.
In 2019 Red Bull is running the Honda power unit after ending a 14-year relationship with Renault, and the team couldn’t help themselves when Max Verstappen crossed the finish line to secure third place in Australia.
— Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) March 17, 2019
The podium is Honda’s first since returning to F1 in 2014. In fact, the last time a Honda-powered car finished on the podium was at the 2008 British Grand Prix when Rubens Barrichello came from P16 to finish third in his Honda.
It should also be duly noted that in Melbourne, McLaren finished 12th with Lando Norris and saw Carlos Sainz suffer the first retirement of 2019 when his Renault engine failed.
Verstappen had started fourth at Albert Park but made up a place on Sebastian Vettel shortly after his pit-stop. The Dutchman then chased down second-placed Lewis Hamilton only to struggle to find a way ahead. He eventually settled for third, 1.6s behind Hamilton but a staggering 35 seconds ahead of the Ferraris.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner fully praised Verstappen’s drive as well as his team’s new relationship with Honda.
“For us to get a podium first race with a new power unit is a dream start. It’s a fantastic performance,” Horner said after the race. “They have given us a great product over the winter and the engine is delivering good power, it has been reliable.
“Max has been able to use that to really good effect today. To put Lewis under pressure for pretty much 50 percent of the grand prix — I thought we had the quicker car than him, certainly in the second half — at this venue is really encouraging for us. I think we’ve got a good basis from which to start and develop this car.”
Verstappen believed his Red Bull had more pace than the Mercedes, but admitted overtaking is still a giant challenge in modern day Formula One cars.
“As soon as I got onto the medium tyres the car felt really good. I had really good balance and I was just slowly pushing up to [Vettel]. As soon as I had the opportunity to go for it, I went for it, and luckily it paid off. Then drove to Lewis, but in general he just had a little bit more pace than Seb. I think we were faster than him but at this track it’s just so hard to get past.”