In the recent spark of talks after the announcement of Honda retiring from F1 by the end of 2021, many have speculated what fate is awaiting for Red Bull Racing and Alpha Tauri, who will be left without an engine supplier from 2022 onwards. The possibility of Red Bull going back to Renault sparked a lot of talks on social media, especially regarding the not-so-great relationship between Christian Horner and Cyril Abiteboul (as portrayed in the Netflix series Drive to Survive) and the break-up between Renault as a supplier to a team that won 4 World Championship with their engines.
Renault has been a supplier of Red Bull since 2007 till 2018, after which the teams from Milton Keynes and Faenza committed to working with Honda, who has been overcoming a difficult partnership with McLaren and many years of slow progress regarding their power unit.
As mentioned before, despite winning 4 consecutive championships with Renault, the partnership ended badly due to some personal resentment between Horner and Abiteboul.
Interestingly enough, the Appendix 9 of the FIA sporting regulations states that manufacturer that supplies the fewest partner teams must supply a competitor that has no alternatives. That means that despite the fire-y relationship between the teams, Renault is obliged to provide Red Bull with their engines, in case they will not secure any other deal for engine supply.
Cyril Abiteboul, the principal of Renault F1 who from next season will be renamed to Alpine F1 Team, said in an interview that although he has not yet heard anything from Red Bull, the team is ready to fulfil the FIA’s obligation. As he said: “I can confirm there was absolutely no conversation to this point. Being in the sport we are well aware of the regulation, and we have every intent to comply with the regulation and with our obligations.”
He added: “Obviously it’s a bit more detailed – we need to be requested, and we have not been requested yet, and secondly there are very specific circumstances, including timing, for this to happen. And we are still quite far from that window, which is not before the spring of next year. We know that in F1 lots of things can happen in a very limited amount of time, and spring 2021 is still very far. All sorts of things can happen. As I say we will comply with any obligation which may arise from this circumstance.”
When asked about the reunion with Red Bull and if this will be an uncomfortable-awkward encounter, Abiteboul replied: “I think so, but we need obviously to look at the sport. And I think we are still very far away from having to possibly cross that bridge. I can’t imagine that Red Bull would not have some plan in the background. Clearly they must have been aware of this, and Helmut [Marko] and Christian are full of moves and solutions. I don’t expect that we will be their Plan A!”
Additionally, the Frenchman admitted that Honda exiting the F1 programme came as no surprise to him. As he said: “We know it’s always something that can happen. knew that they had to confirm their position after 2021, and now that was probably the time to do that – and maybe the lack of confirmation was already an indication, because when I see how advanced we are already into the 2022 engine design I guess it’s de facto some form of orientation.”
Honda is not a new name in F1 by any means. They participated in and left the championship many the times over the years, and had very successful stints especially during the 1986-1991 period, when they won every championship with McLaren and Williams, and the 1988 McLaren MP4/4 being one of the most dominant cars F1 has ever seen driven by the legendary duo of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.
In more recent times, Honda came back to F1 in 2015 with their unsuccessful partnership with McLaren before moving to Red Bull and Alpha Tauri.
As of the reasons to exit the F1 programme, Honda quotes not only the economic grounds, but also the need to focus their resources on developing alternative energy forms.
Here is an exert from the Official statement by Honda Racing F1:
“Toward this end, Honda needs to funnel its corporate resources in research and development into the areas of future power unit and energy technologies, including fuel cell vehicle (FCV) and battery EV (BEV) technologies, which will be the core of carbon-free technologies. As a part of this move, in April of this year, Honda created a new center called Innovative Research Excellence, Power Unit & Energy. Honda will allocate its energy management and fuel technologies as well as knowledge amassed through F1 activities to this area of power unit and energy technologies and take initiatives while focusing on the future realization of carbon neutrality. Toward this end, Honda made the decision to conclude its participation in F1.
Motorsports activities are in Honda’s DNA, and therefore Honda will continue to be passionate about taking on challenges and striving to become No. 1 in all categories of racing in which Honda participates.”
"On behalf of Honda, I would like to express our gratitude again to both Red Bull Racing and Scuderia AlphaTauri for enabling us to fulfil our ambitions of winning F1 races."— Honda Racing F1 (@HondaRacingF1) October 2, 2020
Speech by Takahiro Hachigo, CEO of Honda Motor Co., Ltd. is now available. pic.twitter.com/a3JVmFd4Pl