Dixon: Big tire change from 2012 to 2013

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Though nowhere near as dramatic – or newsworthy – as Pirelli’s new 2013 compounds have been in Formula 1, the newer compounds Firestone has brought to IndyCar this year have already made an impact on the racing.

Firestone’s primary blacks and alternate reds for Barber Motorsports Park this weekend are both softer than a year ago, and producing higher grip levels. The combo of the grippier tires and the resurfaced Barber track led to record lap times in testing last month.

“We did use the new tire I believe at the Barber Open Test, so those tires haven’t changed as much for the road course, even though the lap times we were about two seconds below pole time of last year,” said Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon. “We think a lot of that is due to the surface upkeep, that they’ve sort of cut it a little bit or brushed it or something, and the track grip was up a huge amount at the test. So we’ll see if that probably lasts through this weekend, as well.

Dixon’s preference for oversteer (a looser car) was compromised at St. Petersburg.

“St. Pete definitely the street course tire has, for me has changed significantly in being that last year the car, we were constantly fighting sort of issues with rear grip,” he said. “I love to drive a loose car, so I think it sort of helped me, the new car last year with the combination of the tire. This year it’s a lot of rear grip, a lot of understeer. It seems like it wears the front tires off a lot quicker, as well. So we haven’t kind of seen that quite as much at the Barber test that we did have.”

For Barber, Dixon said the difference between Firestone’s two compounds need to be different enough to ensure as good a race as occurred last year.

“Maybe with the warmer temperatures going back a month or so later; I think the track was pretty cold then, so we were looking at 20 or 30 degrees warmer for this race weekend, which may change a little bit,” he admitted.

“But yeah, I guess the red tires were pretty key to last year and the great racing that we have. I think it’s important that Firestone work on that,” he said. “We see how the Formula 1 races go, and Pirelli are getting a little bit of flak, but the racing is fantastic. It’s more in the driver’s hands of managing the tires, looking after them, making sure they can get through a whole stint, teams working out strategies to figure out ways to get to the end quicker. It creates a lot of differences between teams and drivers and that creates racing on track.

“This weekend is a little bit unknown just because it’s the first road course race of the year. I hope there’s still quite a bit split between the reds and the blacks. I think at St. Pete it almost seemed like the gap between the reds and blacks was a lot less. I know they’re normally quite conservative at the start of the year, Firestone, to make sure we have a durable tire, but hopefully for me I’d hope that the reds fall off quickly and you have to really maintain a smart pace and a setup and manage the car well throughout the racing stint.”

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.