For the first time in its history, Toro Rosso is a works team with Honda and goes into the 2018 season with an aura of the unknown. Big questions remain unanswered around the Japanese manufacturer, which showed signs of improvement towards the end of 2017 after years of struggling and pumping over $1 billion into its engine development.
The McLaren-Honda project was ultimately a failure amplified further by the iconic history of the partnership in the sport. But after three seasons of power output misery and reliability woes, it would be foolish to consider the new Toro Rosso-Honda partnership as a fresh start, because even though recent efforts have been largely fruitless, Honda brings relevant experience this time.
Toro Rosso’s highly-rated technical director, James Key, believes that this season the team and the STR13 will be capable of springing some surprises and cites the more integrated working relationship with Honda as a big plus. Key told RACER:
“To have such a strong collaboration with your power unit supplier is new for Toro Rosso, but it’s an extremely welcome situation to have. Honda have been very honest about the problems they had last year, for example, and have said how they got around them. We’ve done the same, so it’s been a really open discussion on how we can achieve our goals, but with all the data and all the resource to back it up as well.
“It’s been hard work because it’s a big responsibility, being the only team that’s working with a company as big and important as Honda, but I think the way we’ve done it and the way we’re working at the moment has been very positive. So I’d like to think we can spring a few surprises this year. There’s obviously a lot of questions and you never know until you hit the track, but certainly on the Honda side they’re working extremely hard and they’re hoping to start off in a positive way.”
We can’t really blame people for having a low expectation towards anything Honda-related in F1, but at the same time, nothing is a certainty in the pre-season. Honda will be fully aware that this may be its last chance to leave a significant mark in Formula 1 and that Red Bull Racing will be analysing the progress of Toro Rosso this season in order to consider its own potential deal with Honda for 2019.
The STR13 will complete its first shakedown at Misano on 21 February, less than a week before the first Barcelona test. Early signs for Toro Rosso fan-panic would include the STR13 firing up sequence involving a lawn mower pull chord. On the other hand, any positives will be relatively immediate – if the car runs smoothly throughout testing, then the Toro Rosso-Honda project will already be off to a better start than the McLaren-Honda rendition that proved to be a ‘hype hitman’ and ‘anticipation assassin’ on the bleakest of pre-seasons back in 2015.