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Formula 1

Red Bull faces Ferrari hurdle in crunch F1 engine talks

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Ferrari says Red Bull’s bid to freeze engine development after 2021, so it can take on Honda’s engines at a reduced cost, is not Formula 1’s first engine priority.

Red Bull wants to bring forward the planned engine freeze from 2023 to 2022, so that when Honda leaves F1 at the end of next year Red Bull can continue to use the engines without worrying about developing.

It intends to create an infrastructure that allows it to maintain the engines as Red Bull’s own, to avoid having to return to an engine customer arrangement, but says it cannot afford to develop them and therefore an earlier engine freeze is essential.

Red Bull has indicated it could leave F1 without getting that freeze, which is due to be discussed today in a meeting of F1’s teams and stakeholders.

Mercedes has publicly stated it will back Red Bull’s idea but Renault is on the fence – it will support it if engine performance parity can be reached by the end of 2021 – while Ferrari is against it.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Portuguese Grand Prix Race Day Portimao, Portugal

Speaking about the matter for the first time, Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto played down the importance of the freeze.

“The engine matter is one of the points of a big meeting,” he admitted. “I’m not sure how long we will discuss it.

“But I think that before discussing starting the freeze, it’s more important to start discussing 2026, the new technical format for the new power unit, where costs need to be addressed, technology needs to be addressed.

“I see that as a first priority and freezing only a second priority.”

An early engine freeze is unlikely to be in Ferrari’s competitive interests given it has fallen behind its engine rivals and supporting Red Bull would mean losing a year of development.

There is also a concern that an early engine freeze could make F1’s target of 100% sustainable fuels for 2023 impossible.

There is no guarantee, however, that Ferrari will maintain a hard-line position and call Red Bull’s bluff. It may be that Binotto wants a concession of some kind in return for supporting the engine freeze – which he has not outright objected to, but has put up an initial obstacle by downplaying it as a priority.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Eifel Grand Prix Race Day Nurbugring, Germany

For example, Ferrari opposed the rule that allows Racing Point a free upgrade from year-old components to 2020-specification Mercedes parts for next year without having to spend development tokens that other teams must use if they want to upgrade 2020 parts they’ve used all year.

And Ferrari was also pursuing an appeal to the FIA stewards’ verdict on Racing Point’s punishment for using illegally designed rear brake ducts.

But both of those pursuits were eventually surrendered as Ferrari was appeased in other ways.

F1’s customer teams have been coy in presenting their view to Red Bull’s desire for a freeze.

Mercedes’ 2021 customers McLaren and Racing Point said they wanted to keep the Red Bull teams in F1 but the freeze itself is a matter for Mercedes.

“We want to have both Red Bull teams participating in Formula 1, they are both great teams,” said McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Portuguese Grand Prix Race Day Portimao, Portugal

“I think it’s too early – we have some upcoming meetings – to understand what that would look like.

“Of course we don’t make engines so we would defer to Mercedes, our future engine partner, on what they think engine regulations should look like moving forward.

“At this point, until it’s discussed, it’s a bit premature to have a strong view.”

Brown’s Racing Point counterpart Otmar Szafnauer hinted he’d like engine competition to remain.

“The Red Bull teams are both an important part of Formula 1, both Red Bull and AlphaTauri, and we for sure need them to stay,” said Szafnauer.

“As for freezing the engines, that’s a question for Mercedes.

“However, it’s healthy for us to have a sport where you compete a little bit on the engine, you compete a little bit on chassis, you compete a little bit on set-up and you compete a little bit on drivers and I think excluding any one of those and it’s not Formula 1.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Portuguese Grand Prix Race Day Portimao, Portugal

Ferrari customers Haas and Alfa Romeo have suffered this season from the Ferrari engine’s downturn in performance.

Haas boss Gunther Steiner said he was open to the freeze but would accept whatever decision is reached.

“The engine manufacturers, between them, they need to decide is it worthwhile to invest a lot more money in developing the engine we have got now or should we invest in technology for the future, but we cannot decide,” said Steiner.

“These engines now, if the engines are parity, and then freeze them, I’m OK with that but it’s not my decision. I don’t have a vote in that one.”

Alfa Romeo team principal Frederic Vasseur said F1 needed to take a long-term view that looked beyond individual interests.

“The discussion is for the suppliers, not for us,” he said.

“We are expecting to have a cheaper engine but we have to take care of this kind of request to freeze the engine.

“It’s always coming from someone who has a personal interest.

“I remember that during the discussion that we had last winter that Honda was pushing to avoid freezing the engine.

“But we have to take a decision, not based on what happened last year or what happened in the last six months, but on what could happen in the next 10 years.”

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