Christian Horner thinks it is premature to put Red Bull in the world championship conversation despite kicking off its new Honda partnership with a podium.

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Max Verstappen managed to beat the Ferrari drivers to the final spot on the podium at the Australian Grand Prix, where Mercedes completed a comfortable one-two finish. Red Bull ditched its Renault engine for Honda power this year confident that a ‘factory’ partnership — effectively, becoming Honda’s primary supply — would help it close the gap on F1’s two leading teams.

The result in Australia was unexpected: compared to how preseason unfolded, Ferrari underperformed and Mercedes overperformed, and it is still hard to properly gauge the pecking order at the front. Horner is still confident that his team has cut the gap to both teams but is not getting carried away about one result.

“I think it’s too early to talk about championships,” he said. “But certainly to be on the podium is a great moment for Honda.

“We’re very proud of that achievement, grateful for the product they’ve given us. Hopefully it’s a starting point for a strong season.”

Max Verstappen ensured Red Bull’s Honda partnership got off to a positive start in Melbourne. Charles Coates/Getty Images

“We want to close the gap to Mercedes and Ferrari [and] we’ve done that,” he added. “It’s only one race but we have a good start and we have to build on this positive energy.”

It was Honda’s first podium since returning to the F1 grid as an engine supplier in 2014. The years since had been frustrating, with McLaren severing what was supposed to be a 10-year deal prematurely after growing frustrated at its lack of competitiveness. Honda spent a year with Red Bull’s junior team, Toro Rosso, in 2018 before adding the former world champions to its supply chain for this season.

While Verstappen enjoyed a strong start to the season, new teammate Pierre Gasly failed to score a point. Gasly’s job was made more difficult by a Red Bull strategy blunder in qualifying, as it opted against sending its drivers out for a second lap in the opening session (Q1). With plenty of drivers improving, both Verstappen and Gasly tumbled down the order — although Verstappen safely progressed through to Q2, Gasly did not, meaning he started at the rear end of the field.

In the race he got stuck behind Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat and was unable to find a way past. Horner thinks it would be unfair to judge the young Frenchman on the basis of one weekend.

“It’s still early days. There’s always pressure in Formula One but I thought he drove a good race. He just needs a straightforward weekend. He built his way into the weekend very well, his feedback’s very strong.

“We know he’s got the pace, we’ve just got to give the kid a bit of time and it’ll come right for him.”

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