KNUTSON: What Will Red Bull Do For Engines?

Red Bull Racing will soon be on the hunt for a new F-1 engine supplier. (Red Bull photo)
Dan Knutson.

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Honda’s announcement that it will withdraw from Formula One at the end of 2021 was both a surprise and predictable.

Manufacturers come and go in F-1. Ferrari is the only manufacturer to compete in all 70 years of the Formula One world championship.

This was Honda’s fourth time around in the series and the Japanese automaker had only committed to remain through 2020, before extending that to 2021 while it considered its options.

Because of the worldwide recession at the time, Honda and BMW pulled out of F-1 at the end of 2008 with Toyota following a year later.

This time around Honda, which returned in 2015, had a different set of reasons.

Honda wants to: “Accelerate such initiatives and strive for the realization of carbon neutrality by 2050 in order to realize a sustainable society. To this end, our current goal of electrifying two-thirds of our global automobile unit sales in 2030 will become a checkpoint we must pass before we get to the 2050 goal, and therefore we must further accelerate the introduction of our carbon-free technologies.”

F-1’s expensive, high-tech hybrid power units do not fit in with Honda’s future vision.

The question now is: What do Red Bull and it’s sister team (Scuderia AlphaTauri) do for engines in 2022 and beyond?

Mercedes will be supplying four teams in 2021 — itself, McLaren, Aston Martin and Williams — so it does not have the capacity to work with a fifth team.

“I have no doubt that (Red Bull’s racing adviser) Helmut (Marko) will have a Plan B,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said, “and probably doesn’t need to rely on any of the current power-unit suppliers.”

Ferrari’s Mattia Binotto said Ferrari will only consider the matter after Red Bull makes a request for power units in 2022.

The regulations would require Renault to supply engines to the two teams if ordered to do so by the FIA because, currently, Renault will be the only team using its engines 2022.

“I can confirm I have not been contacted by Red Bull in relation to engine supply,” Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul said. “I can’t imagine that they don’t have a Plan A or Plan B. I think we are very far in the pecking order before they call us again.”

Plan A could see Red Bull exit Formula One.

“If we cannot find a competitive solution, that is an option,” Marko told Auto Motor und Sport. “Max (Verstappen) has a competitive engine (clause) in his contract, but that’s also our premise. Without an engine with which we can win the world championship, the (F-1) project is not interesting for us.”

Plan B would be for Red Bull to take over Honda’s IP rights on the power units and move the entire operation from Japan to Britain. But Red Bull would only do that if the FIA froze engine development from 2022 onward. The high costs and challenges of doing F-1 power unit development would be prohibitive for Red Bull.

“Obviously, we need to consider all our options,” Red Bull’s team principal Christian Horner said. “A team like Red Bull is not a standard customer team. The team’s aspirations are extremely high. It wants to win. It wants to compete and win world championships. We need to take the time to do our due diligence on the options that are available to us in order to finalize our thinking certainly by the end of the season and most definitely by the end of the year. We have to consider all the options and make decisions following that.”

What about continuing the Honda project with funding by Red Bull or in conjunction with another technical partner?

“As I say, we have to look at all of the options,” Horner noted, “and we have to take the time to do that. Red Bull needs a competitive engine. Its aspirations are not just that of a customer team. When you look at the costs involved in the engine supply, they are enormous and that’s why F-1 has failed in its attempt to attract new engine suppliers and new manufacturers into the sport.”

To further complicate the search for new power units, Red Bull is insisting that both Red Bull and AlphaTauri use the same power units in 2022.