First of all, it has just emerged that Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull’s star driver with seven wins in the team, has decided not to re-sign his contract with the team. This seems very much has if he has been frightened off by Honda’s lack of reliability in the past few seasons. Not wanting his career to be ruined by early race retirements did not look too appealing. However, the immediate issue is where to next? The only option at this moment in time is Renault, who have the same power units as Red Bull, who have endured plenty of retirements from Renault engine failures with Max Verstappen. Ricciardo is unlikely to get any winning results from Renault in 2019, but the team is continuously improving, so this could turn out to be a good decision in a few seasons time. The World of Formula One will have to wait and see…
Honda were humiliated by McLaren, who blamed Honda for every little fault. The reputation of Honda looked to be ruined by the end of 2017 as they were demoted to supplying one of the smallest teams on the grid. When the news came through that McLaren were exchanging engine partner deals with Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s sister team, all McLaren fans breathed a sigh of relief as it seemed that they would finally have a competitive car again. It simply did not turn out that way.
However, the deal with Toro Rosso has led Honda to an extremely important deal with Red Bull, who will be expecting lots from a previously failed group, but there have been big changes at Honda recently, to personnel and factory operations, so it’s a totally different place than it was last year. Toro Rosso’s performance has been improved dramatically since Honda arrived on their doorstep and Red Bull have also been able to gain critical data from the smaller team, to help in the designing of next years car.
Many would still mock Red Bull for making such a seemingly daft decision to use engines from an engine manufacturer who was dumped only a year ago by McLaren, for Renault engines. But, it has to be remembered that Honda has had a year less development time of incredibly complicated hybrid engines in F1 than any other manufacturer. However, Red Bull looks as though they have been seeking a divorce from Renault for a while, so from their point of view, any other engine is better than Renault. Back in 2014, Renault didn’t devote enough time, money and manpower to the new hybrid engines and so from 2014 onwards, they’ve fallen behind. So far behind, that Red Bull seem to believe that they are further behind than Honda, who joined in early 2015.
The most attractive positive of a Honda supply is that with Honda, Red Bull will become a works team, meaning that all of the latest data will be developed on through Red Bull and the latest upgrades from Honda will be on the Red Bull first. This is a good performance booster and a good way to increase saleability to sponsors, as well as the teams main sponsor becoming one of the biggest car manufacturers, not the watch company of Tag Heuer. It is now become quite clear that to win the championship, you need a works engine deal, like Mercedes, Ferrari and the Renault team have.
Christian Horner describing 2019 as an ‘interim year’ for Red Bull, supports my view that Red Bull should get prepared for a few reliability and performance issues in the next couple of seasons. If the issues can be slowly ironed out, Red Bull Racing will certainly be a future championship winning team once again.