Max Verstappen says switching to Honda provided a clear step forward for Red Bull after giving the Japanese power unit manufacturer its first podium since 2008 at the Australian Grand Prix.

Red Bull left Renault at the end of last season after a 12-year partnership and entered into a works agreement with Honda for 2019. The new paring got off to an encouraging start when Verstappen overtook Sebastian Vettel and then put pressure on Lewis Hamilton en route to finishing third in Melbourne, and had praise for the new power unit.

“I think in terms of speed we had throughout the race, it was again a very good step forward to last year if I compare top speeds against the other two top teams, so I’m very pleased for that,” Verstappen said. “Also, in general, the engine has been performing really well, without any issues. So, that is also very important. I guess time will tell if we can fight for the top spot.”

Honda’s last podium came as a constructor at the 2008 British Grand Prix, before it left the sport completely and returned in 2015 to begin what would prove to be a disastrous three-year spell alongside McLaren. While happy with the engine performance in Melbourne, Verstappen admits that his strategy was crucial in passing Vettel; the Dutchman having been able to pit much later than the two cars ahead of him.

“We had a good car,” he said. “In the start, stayed out of trouble. It was just very hard to stay close to Seb, as my tires were overheating very quickly. I just did my own pace, a manageable pace, and we could extend our stint a little bit, and then when we did the pit stop afterwards, we had a bit fresher tires than Lewis and Seb ahead.

“I managed to get by Seb, which is not easy around this track, because it’s just so hard to follow. But very happy to get to third. Trying to challenge for second was a very positive feeling. At the end we couldn’t pull it off, but in general I’m just very happy to be on the podium.

“I think we managed to turn it around in a very positive way after Friday, and for Honda to have their first podium in the V6 era is a great start, so big congrats to them.”