By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Red Bull had expected to get “trounced” at the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday so Max Verstappen’s podium was a “dream start” for the new partnership with Honda engines, team principal Christian Horner said.
The young Dutchman Verstappen finished third behind Mercedes winner Valtteri Bottas and the Finn’s runnerup team mate Lewis Hamilton, having overtaken Sebastian Vettel late on in a symbolic blow for Ferrari.
Pre-race, Horner had warned his team were well off the pace of Mercedes and the Scuderia as Red Bull bedded in their new Honda-powered package.
So he was pleasantly surprised that Verstappen was able to pressure Hamilton to the finish line at Albert Park.
“I think we’ve over-performed in the race,” Horner said.
“We were more competitive in the race than perhaps we felt we were on Friday.
“To put Lewis under pressure for pretty much 50 percent of the Grand Prix, it looked like we had a quicker car than him certainly in the second half.
“To do that at this venue is really encouraging for us. We’ve got a good basis from which to start and really develop this car.”
Verstappen’s third placing secured Honda their first F1 podium since 2008, following difficult years as a supplier for McLaren in which their power units were pilloried for being unreliable and inefficient.
The podium result had proven too much for Honda motorsport boss Masashi Yamamoto, Horner said.
“Yamamoto-san was in tears at the podium,” he said.
“It’s their first podium since Rubens Barrichello in 2008 and they’ve had a tough time in the last few years so great for them, great motivation for them and the whole of our team. Hopefully we will just find more and more performance.”
Toro Rosso graduate Pierre Gasly, promoted to replace Daniel Ricciardo, battled to an 11th place finish after starting 17th on the grid.
The Frenchman was prevented from earning points by 10th-placed Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat, the man he ended up replacing at the Red Bull feeder team during the 2017 season.
Horner said Gasly had driven well after his poor qualifying effort on Saturday, and felt Red Bull could look ahead to the next stop in Bahrain with renewed confidence if not certainty.
“It will be interesting, a totally different track to here,” he said.
“Melbourne is a bit unique. We all came here expecting to be trounced by Ferrari and Mercedes (who) obviously were very strong yesterday, not as strong in the race as they were yesterday.
“So for Bahrain I’ve got no idea what’s likely to happen there.”
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)