Could Red Bull really take on Honda’s engines in 2022?

Since Honda’s announcement last week that it will quit Formula 1 at the end of next year, the focus has been on Red Bull over its next move.

Could Red Bull really take on Honda’s engines in 2022?
Listen to this article

With just three power unit manufacturers set to be on the grid in 2022 and no sign of any newcomers joining the fray, the options appear limited.

Given previous uncertainty from both Mercedes and Ferrari to supply Red Bull back in 2015, Honda’s exit meant Renault - the very team Red Bull was so eager to split with five years ago - looked like the most obvious option for the future.

But there was also an alternative that did not include any of the three remaining power unit suppliers: for Red Bull to take over Honda’s power unit development itself beyond 2021.

Team principal Christian Horner repeatedly said on Friday when asked about Red Bull’s next step that it had to “consider all options”, but was clear that it could not simply function as a “standard customer team”.

“The team’s aspirations are extremely high: it wants to win, it wants to compete and win world championships,” Horner said.

“We need to take the time to do our due diligence on the options that are available to us in order to finalise our thinking, certainly by the end of the season, and most definitely before the end of the year.

“We’ve got to consider all the options, and then make decisions following that.”

Asked directly how practical a continuation of Honda’s engine project by Red Bull could be, Horner moved to highlight the huge expense of the current power unit regulations in F1.

“When you look at the costs involved in the engine supply, they are enormous, and that is why Formula 1 has failed in its attempt to attract new engine suppliers and new manufacturers into the sport,” Horner said.

“It brings into real focus those costs, those cost drivers through the regulations. Honda’s withdrawal is a real shame for Formula 1, but also a real wake-up call.”

Read Also:

The wider issue of what F1’s future power unit regulations will look like is something all of the series’ major players are considering, but it does little to fix Red Bull’s situation in the short term. As things stand, there will be no new power unit ruleset in place until 2026, meaning Red Bull has a four-season period to cover.

Toto Wolff confirmed on Friday that Mercedes would not be interested in supplying Red Bull, and although both Ferrari and Renault have been more cautious, they’ve hardly been forthcoming.

Both Wolff and Renault counterpart Cyril Abiteboul doubted Red Bull would be reliant on the existing power unit suppliers.

“I have no doubt that Helmut [Marko] will have a Plan B,” said Wolff, with Abiteboul adding that he believed Renault was “very far [down] in the pecking order before they call us again”. 

So could that Plan B mark a new engine project funded by Red Bull moving forward?

Honda F1 managing director Masashi Yamamoto said on Friday at the Nurburgring that the Milton Keynes base for its power unit operations were a “blank slate” were Red Bull to show interest, but added: “At the moment, nothing is decided.”

Horner talked up the fighting spirit being shown at Honda’s Sakura base in Japan and at Milton Keynes, and simply said “no formal discussions have taken place” about taking on the engine project.

To take on Honda’s power unit operation would be a huge undertaking for Red Bull, particularly at a time when F1 is on a drive to bring budgets down. Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz has always stressed the importance of reducing engine costs in F1 - so to swallow that up himself and run an engine programme would mark a significant u-turn.

To give context of what that would entail for Red Bull, Mercedes’ engine plant at Brixworth currently has a staffing level of around 700 people, spread across its F1, Formula E and Project One programmes. Mercedes will supply three customer teams on top of its own F1 works operation from 2021.

Although Red Bull may not quite operate to the same level as Mercedes if it were to take on Honda’s engine programme - theoretically only serving itself and sister team AlphaTauri - and would likely work with a specialist engine partner, such as Mugen, to help the development, it would still require significant input on top of its existing commitment to F1 through its teams.

But there is at least the time for Red Bull to weigh up such a consideration, given there is around 18 months until the start of the 2022 season.

“We see in this sport that sometimes the unexplainable can happen, and it’s our duty to look at what is the most competitive way forward in 2022,” Horner said.

“We have the time, Honda have afforded us that time. If they had made that decision in the spring of next year or in the autumn of next year, it would have been a far worse scenario for us.

"We’re only just halfway through the relationship with Honda, and we’ve achieved a lot in the time that we’ve been together. We aim to achieve a lot more in the remaining time that we have together, and obviously there’s the bigger questions that need to be answered between now and the end of the year.”

Throughout all of Horner’s messaging about Red Bull’s future plans, though, were concerns about where F1 is at right now with its engine formula, and whether it needs to hasten plans to try and bring costs down and make it more appealing to new manufacturers.

“I think that we really need to consider, is 2026 too far away for the introduction of a new engine?” Horner mused. “What will that technology be? What should it be?

“They are questions that are going to need to be answered quickly in order to give a road map to what the future of the sport is.”

Read Also:

This rethink is something that Renault F1 boss Cyril Abiteboul has also called for, suggesting a group of experts come together to discuss what the next generation of F1 engines look like. McLaren’s Andreas Seidl - formerly Porsche’s chief when it was considering an F1 entry - has also highlighted the importance of outlining future direction, and the issues surrounding the cost and complexity of the current power units.

They are questions Red Bull will want the answers to before taking any decision about its future power unit option.

“We will take the time to discuss with the manufacturers, discuss with the FIA, to discuss with Liberty in terms of what their thoughts are for the future as well,” Horner said.

“It’s bad news for the sport that a manufacturer such as Honda has decided to withdraw for the reasons that they have.”


Related video

Seidl: No new manufacturers until F1 engine rules change
Previous article

Seidl: No new manufacturers until F1 engine rules change

Next article

Wolff exit may lead to "bad turn of events" at Mercedes

Wolff exit may lead to "bad turn of events" at Mercedes
Nico Hulkenberg: Why F1's nearly man is refreshed and ready for his return Prime

Nico Hulkenberg: Why F1's nearly man is refreshed and ready for his return

He has more starts without a podium than anyone else in Formula 1 world championship history, but Nico Hulkenberg is back for one more shot with Haas. After spending three years on the sidelines, the revitalised German is aiming to prove to his new team what the F1 grid has been missing.

Why Vasseur relishes 'feeling the pressure' as Ferrari's F1 boss Prime

Why Vasseur relishes 'feeling the pressure' as Ferrari's F1 boss

OPINION: Fred Vasseur has spent only a few weeks as team principal for the Ferrari Formula 1 team, but is already intent on taking the Scuderia back to the very top. And despite it being arguably the most demanding job in motorsport, the Frenchman is relishing the challenge

Formula 1
Jan 27, 2023
The crucial tech changes F1 teams must adapt to in 2023 Prime

The crucial tech changes F1 teams must adapt to in 2023

Changes to the regulations for season two of Formula 1's ground-effects era aim to smooth out last year’s troubles and shut down loopholes. But what areas have been targeted, and what impact will this have?

Formula 1
Jan 26, 2023
Are these the 50 quickest drivers in F1 history? Prime

Are these the 50 quickest drivers in F1 history?

Who are the quickest drivers in Formula 1 history? Luke Smith asked a jury of experienced and international panel of experts and F1 insiders. Some of them have worked closely with F1’s fastest-ever drivers – so who better to vote on our all-time top 50? We’re talking all-out speed here rather than size of trophy cabinet, so the results may surprise you…

Formula 1
Jan 25, 2023
One easy way the FIA could instantly improve F1 Prime

One easy way the FIA could instantly improve F1

OPINION: During what is traditionally a very quiet time of year in the Formula 1 news cycle, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has been generating headlines. He’s been commenting on massive topics in a championship that loves them, but also addressing necessary smaller changes too. Here we suggest a further refinement that would be a big boon to fans

Formula 1
Jan 24, 2023
How can McLaren keep hold of Norris? Prime

How can McLaren keep hold of Norris?

Lando Norris is no longer the young cheeky-chappy at McLaren; he’s now the established ace. And F1's big guns will come calling if the team can’t give him a competitive car. Here's what the team needs to do to retain its prize asset

Formula 1
Jan 24, 2023
What difference did F1's fastest pitstops of 2022 make? Prime

What difference did F1's fastest pitstops of 2022 make?

While a quick pitstop can make all the difference to the outcome of a Formula 1 race, most team managers say consistency is more important than pure speed. MATT KEW analyses the fastest pitstops from last season to see which ones – if any – made a genuine impact

Formula 1
Jan 23, 2023
When F1 'holiday' races kept drivers busy through the winter Prime

When F1 'holiday' races kept drivers busy through the winter

Modern Formula 1 fans have grown accustomed to a lull in racing during winter in the northern hemisphere. But, as MAURICE HAMILTON explains, there was a time when teams headed south of the equator rather than bunkering down in the factory. And why not? There was fun to be had, money to be made and reputations to forge…

Formula 1
Jan 20, 2023