Red Bull hail 'tremendous' Honda partnership despite missing Marko target

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Red Bull boss Christian Horner has heralded the partnership built with Honda in their first Formula 1 season together.

It's safe to say there were a few doubters about how successful the change from Renault would be, this despite the Japanese manufacturer showing solid progress with Toro Rosso in 2018.

Any thoughts of a repeat of the three years with McLaren were quickly dispelled, however, as Honda would prove more than capable of competing with the best on the grid.

"The partnership with Honda has worked tremendously well," Horner said via F1i.com.

"From the first race and the podium in Melbourne, this really has been beyond expectation.

“The three pole positions - albeit we only kept two of them! Three victories and nine podiums is a really impressive performance this year."

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Those final figures though were short of what team advisor Helmut Marko had set as a target for 2019.

“We stayed far below our potential," he told Austria's Kronen Zeitung. “Five victories should have been possible.

“The reasons for this, on the one hand, unfortunate circumstances such as various crashes and on the other hand, the Honda engine and chassis only began to improve later in the season.”

Indeed, Red Bull remained as a nearly team, unable to challenge Mercedes consistently and mostly level with Ferrari, but that was enough in the boss' mind.

“It was always going to be [a transitionary year for the team], the first engine change we’ve had in 13 years," Horner admitted. "But Honda has stepped up the plate in all areas.

"The reliability, the performance increased with each engine, it's been very much a highlight.

"With each engine introduction we’ve got closer and closer to the pace. Reliability has been strong, we've only had one mechanical DNF this year in Azerbaijan."

As a result then, the Briton is more optimistic than ever that Red Bull can push on and perhaps become realistic contenders next year.

"With the stability of the regulations going into 2020 hopefully we can be the challenger team next year," he declared.

"We've developed the car well this year. I think Honda has done a great job with each introduction on the power unit.

"But we know there's still a gap to close to Mercedes, and we have to keep pushing," he acknowledged. "Mercedes has had another very strong year, very much the benchmark still.

"[But] it feels like we're definitely getting closer."

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