Red Bull is set to finalise a deal to take over Honda’s engines following its successful lobbying for an early Formula 1 engine development freeze.
Honda is leaving F1 at the end of this year, after what will be only its third season partnered with Red Bull and fourth with its sister team AlphaTauri.
As revealed by The Race, Honda was immediately open to a deal to let Red Bull take over its engines for 2022 and beyond, and Red Bull soon indicated it was keen to maintain the engines itself with a beefed-up facility at its Milton Keynes base and some third-party support.
But Red Bull was adamant it would not be able fund, let alone actually carry out, the development of the Honda power unit, and so began a long process of trying to bring forward an engine development freeze.
Under the previous rules, engine development was set to be halted for three seasons starting in 2023.
But a motion to bring the engine freeze forward to the start of the 2022 season was finally tabled on Thursday at a meeting of the F1 Commission and was passed.
Honda has already developed a new engine for 2021 but the 2022 freeze means Red Bull will likely task its outgoing partner with another update that can be deployed in 2022.
That will keep the engine in sync with its rivals and avoid Red Bull spending three seasons at a likely disadvantage.
Approval of the engine freeze opens the door for Red Bull and Honda to finalise a deal that The Race understands has been agreed in principle for some time.
Private discussions between Red Bull and Honda took place to establish the specifics of their arrangement and were understood to have swiftly gained support from Honda in Japan, not just its F1 operation.
In addition to agreeing that Red Bull will take over part of Honda’s Milton Keynes facility, and expand its own Red Bull Technologies campus as well, it is expected that the takeover plan will include at least some Honda personnel remaining involved beyond 2021.
By the end of 2020 Red Bull and Honda were believed to have agreed their deal in principle and the only remaining uncertainty was whether the freeze would be implemented.
Now that has been agreed to by F1’s stakeholders, finalising the deal should be a formality and be completed in the coming days, barring any unexpected setbacks.
It will ensure F1 keeps four engine variants until its next-generation engine is introduced, which is likely to be in 2025 now rather than 2026.
Red Bull has hinted that it could use the experience of maintaining the Honda engines over the next few years, and the infrastructure it will need to put in place to manage that, to explore the possibility of building its own engine for those rules.
Otherwise it would be tasked with attracting a new manufacturer to F1.
The championship has been evaluating ways to reduce the cost and complexity of its engine rules, as the V6 turbo-hybrid era approaches its eighth season.
This has been a divisive issue as there is no unanimous agreement over which technology to adopt, but F1 has regularly stated prospective manufacturers are interested.