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Analysis

Why Red Bull remains ‘100% convinced’ F1 Powertrains is worth the expense

Honda’s recent Formula 1 U-turn left Red Bull facing up to the reality that embarking on its own engine project had not ultimately been a necessity. 

Red Bull Racing RB19 engine

Had Honda not been so hasty in quitting F1 in the first place, or been prompter in approving its return, then Red Bull would have had no need to do its own thing on the engine front and commit hundreds of millions of pounds to its new Powertrains division. 

It was no wonder that Max Verstappen’s first response to the news of Honda staying in F1 was to suggest it was a bit of a ‘shame’ the way the situation played out

“I think from our side, of course, it's a bit unfortunate how all of that turned out because a few years ago, they say we're going to stop, so then Red Bull sets up its own engine division, and then at one point they say no, we continue,” he said at the Monaco Grand Prix. 

"Unfortunately, once you're already in the process of building a whole engine yourself, you can't really work together anymore. It's a bit of a shame, I would say.” 

From the perspective of Red Bull’s team management, it was a no-brainer to understand that things would have certainly been an awful lot cheaper if Honda had elected to stay put. 

“It was certainly an expensive decision,” smiled Red Bull team boss Christian Horner about the call to go down the Powertrains route. 

But F1 is not a sport where success is achieved by doing things on the cheap.  

And while Red Bull has certainly had to dig deep into its pockets to follow Mercedes, Ferrari and Alpine in producing both cars and engines, there are clear benefits from it that remain priceless. 

And chief among them, which also proved to be a factor in why its talks with Porsche over a 2026 engine deal collapsed at the 11th hour, was in Red Bull being fully in control of the future. 

Red Bull Ford Powertrains logo

Red Bull Ford Powertrains logo

Photo by: Red Bull Racing

After years where its fortunes have ebbed and flowed based on the competitiveness of its engine partner -  just witness the highs and lows with Renault – it knew that if it wanted to become a permanent force at the front, then it needed to be in charge of what went in the back of its car. 

As Horner told Motorsport.com recently about the benefits from the investment: “It's hugely ambitious, but I think it is about taking control of our own destiny for the longer term.  

“When Honda decided to withdraw from this sport, that left us with a predicament of either going back to being a customer team, or do we use this as the moment with a new set of regulations for 2026 to invest in a cost cap environment?  

“For the future, having chassis and engine all on one site, puts us in a unique position other than Ferrari of having everything housed on one campus. There are efficiencies and synergies that that creates, and not even Mercedes in chassis and engine have common ownership, or are on the same campus.  

“Yes, there's going to be some short-term pain as we are effectively the first startup engine business for probably 25 years in the UK, but that's part of the excitement of the challenge as well.” 

Beyond the fact that Powertrains gives Red Bull the control it has lacked ever since it entered F1, there will also be incremental gains in terms of its actual car. 

With Aston Martin having made clear in its Honda announcement that the 2026 rules will demand closer integration than ever before between powerunit and chassis, Red Bull knows that going back to being a customer was not something it could counter. 

“You don't have that control over your supplier,” added Horner.   

“I think that we've enjoyed a great partnership with Honda and, having experienced what essentially a works partnership could look like, and the benefits of it, it would be very hard to go back to being dictated what the layout should be.” 

Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner shakes hands with Jim Farley, CEO of Ford on the grid

Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner shakes hands with Jim Farley, CEO of Ford on the grid

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Perhaps the biggest positive from Red Bull’s powertrains approach is that it has ended up in a scenario where it has got the best of both worlds: there is manufacturer support on board with Ford having joined the project, but there is no downside to it being dictated to in terms of end product. 

“It's a straightforward partnership,” explained Horner. “They're bringing knowhow in areas that we don't have expertise, particularly in battery cell technology. 

“And the enthusiasm that they add that has been throughout the organization has been phenomenal. It is a big brand and an important brand globally. 

“As 2026 starts to take shape, Ford are investing close to $50 billion in battery cell technology and facilities over the next period in time, as they look to electrify a large portion of their product. 

“That has a benefit, as it puts us on a more equal footing with some of our competitors who obviously have access to that investment.” 

And while at the moment there is no extra commercial rights income benefit that comes for teams producing their own engine, Horner says that situation could be something that changes as part of the new Concorde Agreement coming by 2026. 

“I think it's something that needs to be taken into consideration within the Concorde Agreement that's up for renewal in 2026,” he said.  

“I think with costs coming under control, with being able to bring in a partner like Ford, who has obviously helped the burden of costs and is bringing technology that would have otherwise been unavailable to ourselves as an independent engine manufacturer, it is an important partnership for us moving forward. And hopefully the financial model for the engine supply side of the business will change.” 

Let us not forget also that over the long haul, if Red Bull elects to take on some customer teams, the revenue streams can increase further. 

So, while the expense of Powertrains in the short term may deliver some added hassle, it is clear that it is an investment for the future where the gains are tangible and worth going through the pain for. 

“Just from a synergy point of view, to be able to share approaches, and have chassis and engine engineers sitting next to each other, for me it’s something that will play a long-term benefit,” added Horner. 

“I think it's going to take a little bit of time to truly see the benefit of that, but 100% it's been the right investment.” 

Read Also:
Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

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