Friday saw Honda’s shock announcement of it’s Formula 1 departure at the end of 2021, following 6 seasons of mixed success. Honda’s exit leaves Red Bull’s two teams, Red Bull Racing & Scuderia AlphaTauri without an engine for 2022 & beyond.
Today, we take a look at Red Bull’s 4 2022 engine options for it’s 2 teams, ranking them from the most likely to least likely.
4: In-House Engines
The idea of Red Bull producing its own F1 engines in-house, is not new, having been raised multiple times across the years. The concept’s origins date back to late 2010, when Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz stated in an interview: “And even the idea of developing our own engine, I think, is no longer so absurd”.
The possibility of seeing Red Bull go in-house with it’s engine was raised again in mid-2014, the first year of the Turbo-Hybrid V6 engines. Following years of success in the 2.4L V8 Formula, Renault found itself with a disappointing engine. Renault’s 2014 PU was saddled with many reliability problems during testing, and was also down on power.
According to Sky Sports, the Mercedes power units (4 teams) did 17,994 km of running, Ferrari did 10,214 km (3 teams), while Renault managed just 8770 km across its 4 teams. Following the 2014 Austrian Grand Prix, things came to a head, with Red Bull firing its first volley of criticism at Renault. Senior figures in the team, namely Team Principal Christian Horner, & Motorsport Advisor Helmut Marko had this to say: “The reliability is unacceptable, the performance is unacceptable and there needs to be change at Renault,” (Horner) & “If we don’t see a possibility to be on a same level with Mercedes then we will have to look for alternatives,” (Marko).
Famed Motorsport journalist Joe Saward also hinted at the possibility of seeing Red Bull produce its own engines, with Saward writing on his blog: “The next thing for [Red Bull owner Dietrich] Mateschitz will be to set up a cluster for the motorsport industry in Styria by building his own engines there… Don’t think I’m joking, by the way, Mateschitz is a free thinker, who puts his money where his mouth is.”
In early 2015, tensions between Red Bull & Renault saw rumours of Red Bull producing it’s own engine emerge once more, involving Mario Illien’s Ilmor company. Illien’s engineering company was then a consultant for Renault to help improve its performance. The rumour stated that Red Bull would build a dyno up and running at its factory by next September, suitable for testing the engine and gearbox entity.
In 2016, Marko admitted Red Bull had previously investigated the use of an in-house engine in 2014. He stated that the Milton Keynes outfit undertook a feasibility study, concluding that the effort would not be worth the cost.
In 2020, Red Bull finds itself looking for a new engine supplier once more, which led to Ralf Schumacher calling for Red Bull to produce it’s own engines. Schumacher stated: “A viable option could be to make your own engine. Red Bull has the power and possibilities, and in that case a partner with Honda, from whom you could take control and continue the whole thing.”
What Schumacher meant was this: Red Bull could acquire Honda’s F1 intellectual property, and then build the engine in-house, partnering with Honda’s consultant, Illmor.
What Red Bull Stands to Gain: Total Control of its engine supply, and full integration between the design of the car & engine for both teams.
Why Red Bull should pause: A significantly increased amount of spending will be required to produce a competitive engine in the coming years. In addition to the hiring of new staff, Red Bull will need to hire new staff, as Honda F1 engine staff will be transferred to assist in Honda’s electrification efforts.
Red Bull-Mercedes. In such a scenario, we could easily see 2 teams going head to head for both Championship titles. This certainly sounds like a pipe dream, doesn’t it? Except it nearly happened in 2016, and for the same reasons it didn’t happen then, it won’t happen for 2022.
In late 2015, as Red Bull attempted a divorce with Renault, a deal emerged between Niki Lauda, Helmut Marko and Dietrich Mateschitz. Red Bull-Mercedes, would not materialise for 2016, however, with Toto Wolff & Mercedes management putting a stop to the deal.
Officially, the deal collapsed as Mercedes did not want to make a deal behind the back of Renault. However, Mercedes Sporting Director Ron Meadows stated, following Lauda’s passing that the unofficial reason for the deal’s termination was that the team did not wish to share it’s engine with a direct competitor.
Why this is unlikely: As seen in 2016, would Mercedes really want to supply a direct competitor to it’s works team? Let alone a “B Team” that could eventually pose a threat to its de-facto “B Team” Aston Martin?
Long before Red Bull’s current partnership with Honda, and prior to Red Bull’s 12 season-long partnership with Renault, Red Bull was a Ferrari customer. This was many years ago in 2006, with the Ferrari 056 powering the teams’ 2nd car, the Red Bull RB2. Theengine supply was for 2 years, but became shortened to a single year, by “mutual consent”. Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri) would end up taking over the contract in 2007, and run with Ferrari engines all the way until 2013, and later in 2016.
In late 2015, Red Bull’s relationship with Renault deteriorated significantly, which saw Red Bull seek out a new engine supplier, while demanding works-parity. Ferrari was not opposed to supplying Red Bull, but refused to provide works-parity.
The then-Chairman of Ferrari, the late Sergio Marchionne, stated in interviews that he was open to Ferrari working with Red Bull once more, albeit in a less than traditional manner. Marchionne insisted that he would not provide Red Bull with the same engines as the works team, and proposed a technical partnership which would allow Red Bull to plot its own power unit development path. This did not occur, but Ferrari would wind up supplying Toro Rosso with 2015-spec Power Units, without any factory support.
Why this is unlikely: Ferrari’s 2020 engine is significantly down on power compared to the competition. If Ferrari cannot claw back the lost Horsepower, it would represent a step backwards for the Red Bull teams. In addition, will Ferrari really want to power a competitor? A competitor that played a role in inciting the FIA Investigation, which saw the Ferrari Power Unit down on power for 2020?
Could Red Bull be forced back into the arms of Renault? If anything, this looks to be the most likely scenario for Red Bull’s teams, although no contact has been made. With the high cost of running it’s own in-house engine program, and both teams looking unlikely to see supply from Ferrari or Mercedes, Renault is Red Bull’s sole option.
Renault has already indicated it is willing to supply both Red Bull teams, with Renault Sport Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul stating the firm was willing to fulfil its obligation to supply where needed. Appendix 9 of the FIA Sporting Regulations obliges the manufacturer with the fewest partner teams to supply a competitor that has no alternatives for engine supply.
Barring any changes ahead of 2022, Mercedes will have four teams and Ferrari three, whereas currently Renault’s only commitment is to its rebranded works Alpine outfit.
Previously, the Red Bull-Renault partnership saw much success, with the partnership seeing 4 Constructors Titles and 4 World Drivers’ Championships between 2010-2013. However, with the introduction of the Hybrid Era engines, the relationship quickly soured between the two parties. By 2015, the partnership had nearly collapsed, with Red Bull unsuccessfully attempting to seek out an alternative engine supply for the 2016 season. Red Bull would continue to use Renault power under the TAG HEUER badge, until 2018, before a less than amicable split occurred that year.
Since 2018, Renault’s engine has improved by leaps and bounds; with the decline of Ferrari power, they have now effectively become the 2nd best power unit on the grid. Renault are seeking a customer team to boost revenue, and to increase on-track mileage for R&D.
Should Red Bull reconcile with Renault for 2022 onwards, things could go either way. It could be a successful partnership, or be another repeat of the 2014 & 15 seasons for Red Bull & AlphaTauri..