SPIELBERG, Austria (Reuters) - Formula One rookie Pierre Gasly believes Red Bull can be winners with Honda next season.
The 22-year-old Frenchman’s opinion may be seen as partisan loyalty from a driver employed by Red Bull’s Honda-powered sister team Toro Rosso, but he is also in a good position to judge.
Gasly’s fourth place in Bahrain last April was the Japanese manufacturer’s best result in the last four years, better than anything achieved in three unreliable and under-performing seasons with McLaren.
Gasly, driver of the day at Sakhir, was lost for words then but has plenty to say now that Red Bull have decided to follow Toro Rosso and ditch the Renault engines for Honda power from 2019.
“We got fourth after two races with them,” the Frenchman, whose team are now nine grands prix into their partnership with Honda, told Reuters at Red Bull’s home Austrian Grand Prix where he finished in the top 10 in both Friday practice sessions.
“I think the job they are doing with Toro Rosso is really productive and will pay off really soon...I think next year we will see them (Honda) on the top spot with Red Bull,” he added.
“It’s still a long way but they have another eight or nine months before they start in Melbourne with Red Bull and so I think they are going to improve quite a lot. We know how good the Red Bull chassis is.
“So I would not be surprised to see them on the top spot.”
Gasly also finished seventh in Monaco and has become Toro Rosso’s de facto lead driver given New Zealander Brendon Hartley’s struggles in the other car.
GP2 (now F2) champion in 2016, the Frenchman made his debut in Malaysia last October and stayed after a sequence of events led to the departures of Russian Daniil Kvyat and Spaniard Carlos Sainz.
Toro Rosso has a history of tossing young drivers on the scrapheap if they are not promoted to Red Bull - as in the case of Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. Gasly is firm about which category he sees himself in.
“For me, clearly the way is up. Not out,” he said. “That’s my goal as well, to be in the Red Bull seat one day.”
Ricciardo, out of contract at the end of the season, is expected to sign a new deal with Red Bull for two more years alongside Verstappen but Gasly knows he has time on his side.
The Frenchman has a good relationship with Honda as well, having raced for them as a title contender in Japanese Super Formula before coming into Formula One.
“In a way I really feel their support, because I’m sort of from their family,” he said. “They arrived at Toro Rosso at the same time I arrived but I sort of came with them.”
Sunday’s race follows on from the disappointment of crashing out of his home French Grand Prix last weekend, but Gasly is hoping to have something to celebrate on Saturday already when France play Argentina in the World Cup round of 16.
A soccer nut and Paris St Germain fan, he counts some of the French team - including Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele - as friends.
As a youngster, he devoted equal attention to soccer and karting but motorsport eventually won out.
“I was in the best team and one day my trainer said ‘OK, you missed the training to go karting, so next weekend you will play in the second team just as a punishment’,” he recalled. “It was the moment I realised I needed to make a choice.
“When I do something I want to do it at the best level, the top level, and I said ‘OK, I’m not interested to play for the second team so I stop football and focus on motorsport’.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Mark Heinrich