Max Verstappen says Honda’s first engine upgrade of the 2019 Formula 1 season will bring greater reliability over outright performance gains and duly backs the changes even if it leaves him expose to potential grid penalties later in the season.

All Honda-powered cars will be given a ‘Spec 2’ Honda power unit update at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix as the Japanese manufacturer accelerates its development plan during its new partnership with Red Bull and Toro Rosso.

Verstappen says the upgrade will bring reliability and greater durability, which he hopes translates into a longer engine life, but isn’t expecting a big jump in terms performance.

“It is mainly about reliability and durability of the engine so I guess it will be a little bit better in terms of performance but nothing massive,” Verstappen said. “I am really happy because they keep pushing really hard to bring updates so that is always good.

“I am happy if we can say by the end of the season that we have really closed the gap to Ferrari and if we use a few more engines then that is fine.

“It can always be better so that’s why they’ve pushed for an even better engine concept. I am happy that they did it and hopefully we can run that engine longer than compared to the first one, which we can still use, there is no problem with it.”

While Verstappen doesn’t predict significant performance gains in race trim, he did hint at “a few tenths” of a second being found in a qualifying mode but believes Ferrari will still hold an advantage when it comes to Q3.

“I think in the race we are more competitive,” he said. “In qualifying it is mainly just Ferrari that stands out, it is massive, but like I said before they have found something in their engine that really works so it is good, and it gives Honda good motivation to work even harder which they do.

Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Pierre Gasly has echoed his comments and backs the timing of the upgrade, which had been rumoured to arrive for the Canadian Grand Prix, and despite penalty concerns he is pleased by the early arrival.

“We all have a different development plans,” Gasly added. “What we know is that Honda is really working really hard, and I think we’re all happy with the progress they are doing.

“We know we will get some more upgrades during the season. I think the team strategy, the best thing to do is to change the engine now, and then we’ll get another upgrade later this season, but probably a different plan than other teams.”

Each F1 driver is only permitted three internal combustion engines (ICE), motor generator unit-heat units (MGU-H) and turbochargers (TC), plus just two of the remaining elements of an F1 power unit.

With Honda drivers moving on to at least their second units of each element at the fourth round of a 21-race season, concerns were raised over the durability of its engine parts which could leave its drivers facing possible grid penalties later in the season for taking on extra units – a frequent issue Honda has been hampered with since returning to F1 in 2015.



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