Why Red Bull is taking a gamble

Red Bull Racing has finally confirmed it will take over Honda’s power unit technology from the start of the 2022 season until the end of 2024.

Honda’s corporate group in Japan announced last October it would be pulling the Honda power unit supply from the sport altogether at the end of 2021. Initially leaving Red Bull and AlphaTauri’s position in the balance with a forced Renault reunion the only visible option.

However it soon became clear there was reasonable sense behind a new theory – Red Bull taking over the IP address and technology from the Honda powertrains themselves and running them in-house for both of its teams. When pressed on the issue, Christian Horner confirmed this would only be possible if a planned engine freeze of Formula One’s power unit development by the FIA was brought forward by one season – from the start of 2023 to 2022.

Last week the sport confirmed the freeze would indeed be brought forward with a unanimous vote from all teams to keep costs down – to save themselves from themselves and save the sport from messy publicity around a Red Bull Renault altercation.

Image credit: https://hips.hearstapps.com

A newly founded group Red Bull Powertrains Ltd will take on the responsibility of power unit supply where Honda vacates – to one fifth of the grid. Maintaining the process from a heavily updated Technologies facility at the team’s Milton Keynes Headquarters, and from Honda’s current facility incidentally located close-by in Milton Keynes.

With no development necessary to stay competitive from the start of the deal, the main concerns from an outsider’s perspective are whether the group can keep on top of reliability, supply of spares and any upgrades the FIA force upon them. It still remains unclear whether the FIA will apply a form of development tokens to the suppliers that have fallen behind Mercedes in performance terms. Meaning RBP would have to attempt to upgrade to keep up with Renault and Ferrari. Even if this doesn’t happen, the introduction of fuels with an increased ratio of synthetic product could still lead to changes in the bowels of the powertrain and horrifying curveballs for the energy drinks brand’s plan of constantly re-engineering the same product.

The FIA already has in force a requirement for fuels in 2021 to have a 10% sustainable and synthetic content which Honda’s newly upgraded power unit will operate under for this season and subsequently now until 2024. Fully synthetic fuels are only likely to be introduced in 2025, in conjunction with all new power unit regulations. By then, Red Bull Powertrains might be in a position to develop their own power units with knowledge, data and expertise learned from Honda and a few former Honda employees over the preceding period.

Formula One are seeking all new manufacturers to join the grid, with Volkswagen apparent frontrunners in the bid to become the sports newest engine supplier. But from an outsiders perspective, that only seems likely at the beginning of 2025. Honda themselves proved in 2015 that joining the grid after a season or more of consistent engine regulations is likely to involve a smattering of public embarassment and humiliation at the hands of your customer team.

Honda has invested significantly in the sport’s expensive hybrid technology with three seasons at the hands of Ron Dennis and Fernando Alonso yielding little reward. Since then Red Bull, Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri have provided multiple podiums and wins for the brand. Not overlooking how Honda is the only supplier in the hybrid era to gain a victory with more than one team.
As quickly pointed out by former Caterham and Sauber F1 Driver Marcus Ericsson, we have to hope Red Bull give credit for any short term success to ‘all the F1 efforts and investments made for years and years’ by Honda.

The Japanese brand will be seriously hoping they haven’t yet again chosen to leave the sport just as their technology is ready to fight for the championship outright.

Brawn GP won both championships in 2009 with a Honda designed chassis and hastily fitted Mercedes engine.
Image credit: https://i.redd.it/udecvdo08zwz.jpg

The Red Bull and AlphaTauri teams have never once supplied their own horsepower, relying on numerous customer deals even before their respective buyouts in the mid-2000s. Yet the teams have contributed so enormously to F1 in that period.

As Dr Helmut Marko admitted, taking on such a responsibility they’ve never had to consider before is a ‘bold move’.

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