The intricacies of Honda withdrawal at the end of 2021
Early October, Honda who was Red Bull and Alpha Tauri engine supplier since 2018 announced their withdrawal from the sport. It left the two F1 teams short of options in terms of engine supply. They then turned to other existing engine manufacturers to probe whether they would be willing to propel the Red Bull’s chassis. If Mercedes clearly ruled out any idea of a partnership with the austrian stable, both Ferrari and Renault left the door open for potential future negotiations.
With the picture getting clearer, Red Bull started weighing their options. While going back to a customer status meant adapting their chassis to an engine solution not tailor-made for them, taking over the intellectual property of Honda to manufacture their own engines came with significant financial constraint and the perspective of investing in a technology development set to disappear in a 3-years span. Helmut Marko said in that respect:
"All engine manufacturers have their own team and that means they develop the engine around their chassis"
"We would get something where we would have to adapt our chassis and our ideas secondary, and we would be confronted with a technical solution that we would have to accept.”
"That's why the Honda solution is [our favourite]. Nevertheless, we are exploring all possibilities.”
"According to the FIA regulations, every engine manufacturer has committed itself to supplying other teams. If something like this is to be a possibility for us, then it must fit the overall situation, and it must make us competitive.”
"A happy forced marriage is not an issue for us."
Red Bull considering to end its Formula 1 involvement at the end of 2021
As stated previously, for the team’s managers, the solution with the Honda legacy costs money and only works if the engine regulations are frozen. Even if only one upgrade were allowed per year, a private initiative would reach its technical limits. Marko said accordingly:
"We would favour, provided the talks with Honda are positive, that we take over the intellectual property rights and everything that is necessary, to then prepare and deploy the engines ourselves in Milton Keynes.”
"But this is only possible on condition that the engines are frozen by the first race in 2022 at the latest. We cannot afford further development, neither technically nor financially. That is a prerequisite."
Having stated what the team’s preference would be from a sporting point of view, Red Bull’s management certainly sat down to assess the financial intricacies of such a commitment. Ultimately, Helmut Marko has confirmed to AMUS:
“Red Bull prefers the solutions with the Honda engine in personal responsibility. Because it is the only way to preserve a piece of independence. Red Bull has also let those responsible for Formula 1 know that - the plan sounds a bit more dramatic - either engine development is frozen from 2022, or Red Bull leaves Formula 1 with its two teams.”
The other teams stance regarding the engine freezing
An engine freezing generally favors the teams to have the upper hand, and in this case, this means Mercedes. Expectedly, the Germans are understood to be positive about Red Bull's proposal. Renault on the other hand would agree with the motion, providing there is an alignment of the engines beforehand.
As for Ferrari, with an engine reported to be 50 hp down on power, the team is highly expected to use its veto right to block the engine freezing proposal. It is indeed understandable that the italian manufacturer wouldn’t want to compete with a guaranteed horsepower deficit by 2025. Besides, Maranello believes Red Bull’s situation isn’t as desperate as they sound, especially because they have two engine supply offers from themselves and Enstone.
"You can knock on the door in Paris or in Maranello at any time. There you can get an engine that costs you less money than if you do it yourself."
The stakes of the engine summit on October 26th in Portimao
In addition to their previous concerns, team’s managers also have to have in the back of their minds, the upcoming engine summit in Portimao. From 2022, the planned changes to the engines will see 20% of biofuel added, while from 2023 the sport will be using 100% CO2-neutral fuel.
For Ferrari, the idea of the project with the emission-free fuels being stopped because of Red Bull’s concerns is out of the question. This development is far too important for the green label the sport is working so hard on, not to mention its future regarding the advent of engines less expensive and less complex to master.