Honda runners struggle on Friday in St. Pete

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The big mystery after Friday’s two practice sessions at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was why the Honda runners were regularly and frequently off the pace.

Only Takuma Sato for A.J. Foyt Racing cracked the top five, while erstwhile dominant runners Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti failed to break into the top 15 for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Tristan Vautier snuck into the top 10 toward the end of the session.

James Jakes, Simon Pagenaud, Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal were 11th through 14th, with Justin Wilson 16th ahead of Franchitti in 17th, Dixon in 19th, Alex Tagliani 20th, Josef Newgarden 21st and Ana Beatriz 25th and last.

Power – who was either playing coy or admitting the Ganassi contingent has, in fact, lost a step over the winter – said this could be a situation where Honda hasn’t shown its full hand.

“I’m not sure about the Ganassi guys right now,” said Power. “They’re not fast… but really you don’t know until qualifying. We thought we were at good shape at Indy. Then in the race, they killed us. They may be sandbagging. We need to wait and see until qualifying.”

Power was referring to last year’s Indianapolis 500, when Chevrolet teams locked out eight of the nine top spots on the grid, but Honda runners had both improved pace and fuel mileage come the race on Sunday.

St. Petersburg and Indianapolis couldn’t be more polar of opposites in terms of circuits (1.8-mile street circuit, 2.5-mile oval), but the point still stands. Whether the Honda runners improve on Saturday is a major question going forward.

F1: Red Bull Racing confirms switch to Honda engines next season

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Honda will become Red Bull’s engine supplier from next season after the Formula One team confirmed its anticipated split with Renault on Tuesday.

The Japanese manufacturer will supply engines for 2019 and 2020, and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner hailed the deal as “an exciting new phase” in the bid to return to the top of F1.

“After careful consideration and evaluation, we are certain this partnership with Honda is the right direction for the team,” Horner said in a team statement. “We have been impressed by Honda’s commitment to F1, by the rapid steps they have made in recent times with our (feeder) team Toro Rosso.”

It is a boost for Honda, which was unceremoniously dumped by McLaren at the end of last year.

Honda has started this season brightly as engine provider for Toro Rosso, and this may have been a key factor in Red Bull finally ditching Renault.

“Honda’s alignment with both Red Bull Formula One teams provides enormous potential,” Horner said. “Honda will have access to a wealth of data from both outfits, with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing leading the way, and the opportunities for faster, more effective and more competitive development are doubled.”

The deal brings to an end Red Bull’s 12-year partnership with Renault.

Although relations became increasingly strained between the two parties in recent years, it was once a dream partnership as Red Bull and Renault won four straight drivers’ and constructors’ championships with Sebastian Vettel behind the wheel from 2010-13.

During that glory era, Vettel and teammate Mark Webber won 47 grand prix. Since 2013, results have somewhat dried up and there have been only 10 race wins.

“We have sometimes had our differences but Renault has always worked tirelessly and to the best of its ability to provide us with a competitive power unit,” Horner said.

He was not always quite so complimentary about Renault. He has regularly and publicly criticized Renault’s reliability in recent years – although it has been hard to judge sometimes.

Red Bull showed good speed toward the end of last season when Max Verstappen won two races, and teammate Daniel Ricciardo won this season’s Chinese GP with a brilliant drive. The difference in speed between Red Bull and Mercedes appears less than before, although Ferrari remains noticeably quicker.

Verstappen’s form has picked up after a poor start to 2018, marred by crashes, and he has taken third place in two of the past three races.

Meanwhile, McLaren’s partnership with Renault has not been as successful as they anticipated after dropping Honda following three fruitless seasons together.

Two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso has failed to finish the past two races and has yet to place higher than fifth. Renault teammate Nico Hulkenberg has a best finish of fourth place.