Red Bull: Energy Drinks Producer and <checks notes>... F1 Engine Manufacturer?!
Have you heard the latest Red Bull F1 news? In October 2020 Honda announced that at the conclusion of the 2021 season they would pull out of Formula 1. This leaves Mercedes, Ferrari, and Renault as the remaining F1 engine manufacturers. The way the rules are written means that unless Red Bull could enter into a contract with Mercedes or Ferrari, Renault would be obliged to supply them due to having the fewest engine customers. (In reality, they have no customers as the Renault/Alpine factory team is the only team currently using Renault power units.)
This Red Bull F1 news left the team in an awkward situation. It’s highly unlikely that Mercedes would supply one of their chief rivals. Aside from that, Mercedes already supplies Aston Martin (formerly Racing Point), Williams, and now McLaren. A fourth team could be a stretch from a manufacturing perspective requiring further staffing and logistics. Ferrari supplies fewer teams - Haas and Alfa Romeo — however with the uncompetitive nature of the Ferrari engine Red Bull surely would prefer to go with another F1 engine manufacturer. Red Bull also had an extremely “ugly divorce” from Renault when they initially switched to Honda.
So what’s being done with this Red Bull F1 news? Take over engine manufacturing themselves, of course. You’d be forgiven if you thought this was a bit of a “Yamaha” moment where my son jokes, “Yamaha: When you need both a clarinet and a boat motor.” But, on paper at least, it appears to be a smart move.
Honda wanted to exit F1 to focus on carbon-neutral road engines. F1 also sees an engine regulation shift in 2025, so something needs to happen in order to bridge the gap for the 2022-2024 seasons. To make this happen, Formula 1 — with assent from the teams — have agreed to freeze engine changes for those years. This allows Red Bull to continue with Honda this year, purchase all of their intellectual property, get set up to be a manufacturer, and ready themselves to produce an engine of their own from scratch for 2025.
In a sport where teams will cut off their nose to spite their face, I’m thrilled to see Formula 1 agree to this engine freeze. It is good for the future of the sport itself and allows the potential of keeping a fourth F1 engine manufacturer in the sport. Teams and engine manufacturers come in and out of Formula 1 regularly and the possibility of being down to three engine suppliers is a bit dangerous in my mind. If one of the remaining free decide to leave it brings great peril to the future viability of Formula 1.
Looking at other race series for example, we’ve seen the DTM (German Touring Cars) essentially scrapped. I loved DTM as it was a highly competitive, close racing format of high performance Mercedes, BMWs, and Audis that often saw retired Formula 1 drivers such as Paul DiResta, David Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher, Timo Glock and others. I often called it “German NASCAR” as there was plenty of car-to-car contact that wasn’t necessarily encouraged, but always happened and was always entertaining. With Audi’s departure from the series, it left the future in great peril. What’s happened is that from 2021 the DTM is essentially a GT3 series. Meh.
With the Red Bull F1 news of the team taking over engine manufacturer duties for Honda, we’re assured of future competitiveness. On the chassis and aerodynamics front, they went from upstarts to championship winning heavyweights with the addition of Adrian Newey. Red Bull will take to engine manufacturing in the same deadly serious manner. I am incredibly curious who Red Bull will hire to lead the charge.
About the Author:
Jared Nichols has been a Formula 1 fan for a decade and a car nut his entire life. He is the host of the F1 Explained podcast where he and special guests make Formula 1 accessible to all. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.