Red Bull are an F1 2019 force with Honda engines, say Mercedes
"The Red Bulls are there with us and I think we're going to have a really great battle," says Hamilton but Honda admit struggles "aren't resolved overnight"
By Matt Morlidge and James Galloway
Last Updated: 22/03/19 7:11pm
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are braced for a close battle with Red Bull throughout the 2019 Formula 1 season after the team's strong debut with Honda engines at the Australian GP.
Max Verstappen ensured the new Red Bull-Honda partnership started with a surprise podium by finishing third in Melbourne, overtaking Sebastian Vettel in a Ferrari which is notoriously quick on the straights.
Red Bull, who were previously powered by Renault, hadn't stepped on the podium at the season-opener since 2013, while it was Honda's first top-three finish in more than 10 years.
"It's great to see the improvement that it's had for the team," Hamilton, who only just held off Verstappen for second place, told reporters
"They were with Renault for such a long time and he [Verstappen] was able to pass the Ferrari. It's awesome.
"The Red Bulls are there with us and I think we're going to have a really great battle through the year between the three of us."
Hamilton added: "I remember growing up watching Ayrton [Senna] drive the Honda [at McLaren] and they were a formidable force back then and it's great to see them back up there."
The result was certainly a welcome boost for a Honda outfit who have been much-maligned since returning to F1 with McLaren in 2014.
The Japanese manufacturer endured three reliability-plagued years, with a best-placed finish of fifth, before linking up with Toro Rosso last season and then securing a Red Bull partnership for 2019.
"I hope that their reliability maintains so we can keep a close battle through the year," said Hamilton, while Mercedes boss Toto Wolff agreed: "The Honda has certainly made a huge step forward.
"If you look at the speed trace it looks a different Red Bull than before. They are very fast on the straights and that's good to see.
"We want them in the mix and we want to have a great fight."
'Struggles not resolved overnight'
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner admitted the team exceeded expectations by securing a Melbourne podium and said it was a "dream start" with a new power unit.
"They've given us a great product over the winter, the engine's delivering good power and it's been reliable," Horner told Sky F1. "To pass a Ferrari and to be racing wheel-to-wheel with them is really positive."
But Horner also warned that it was too early to talk about championships.
And in a Twitter Q&A, Honda were also realistic about their challenge this season.
"We're still pushing hard to build the best Power Unit on the grid," they wrote. "We know one trip to the podium doesn't mean years of struggles are resolved overnight."
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