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Formula 1

Red Bull’s engine freeze bid tipped to fail – so what next?

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Red Bull’s bid for an early engine development freeze has been tipped to fail because of Ferrari and Renault opposition, which would call the team’s bluff over its post-Honda future.

Since Honda announced it will leave F1 at the end of 2021, Red Bull has been evaluating its options and identified the complicated process of taking over Honda’s engines as the best solution.

Red Bull and Honda appear to be willing to strike a deal that would likely involve Red Bull taking over Honda’s Milton Keynes facility near the F1 team’s base, which would also be expanded to accommodate specialist personnel and equipment.

However, Red Bull has made it clear to F1’s stakeholders that it believes this is only achievable if the championship brings forward an engine freeze 12 months – eliminating the need for Red Bull to fund and carry out engine development in 2022.

Mercedes has declared its support for the proposal, but Ferrari was known to be against it and Renault has now stated its opposition as well. FIA president Jean Todt will not support a freeze in 2022 if a lack of development would scupper the governing body’s pledge to introduce 100% sustainable fuels in 2023.

Red Bull, Renault, Nurburgring F1

Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul had previously pushed for a freeze earlier this year but claims Red Bull and Honda opposed it – ironically because Honda would withdraw if it was unable to develop its engine further.

As a result, Renault has invested time and resources to plan for engine development up to and including 2022, while Ferrari is preparing an all-new engine for 2021 and further development for 2022 as it bids to make up a significant power deficit.

Both manufacturers have identified the next-generation engine rules as a priority over freezing.

“I think two of the teams not agreeing, or two of the power unit manufacturers not agreeing, means it can’t come into force, can’t be implemented,” Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff said when asked by The Race about the impact of the Renault/Ferrari objections on Red Bull’s push for a freeze.

“They will have their reasons why they are objecting to that.

“I guess we are also apprehensive of the situation of Honda and Red Bull.

“Renault and Ferrari have been very direct with their position so unfortunately I don’t see that happening.”

Ferrari, Renault, F1

If Red Bull fails to get the freeze it says is essential to take over the Honda project, the claim that this was the “only” way to make its “only” option work will be seriously tested as there will be other options available to it.

It could commit to the continuation effort anyway, and find a way to fund and execute the development of the engine in 2022 – most likely with a third party, unless Honda can be convinced to provide financial or technical input.

Red Bull’s simpler option is to agree an engine supply deal with Ferrari or, more likely, Renault. This solution is enshrined in the FIA’s regulations but is one that Red Bull is not keen on because it does not believe returning to a customer relationship will allow it to fight for championships.

The other option is for Red Bull to quit F1 without what it considers to be an agreeable engine supply. It reaffirmed its commitment to the championship in the wake of Honda’s departure but Red Bull motorsport advisor Dr Helmut Marko has publicly stated that withdrawing Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri remains an option.

However, an alternate scenario may exist depending on the progress F1 makes with determining the next-generation engine package.

Racing Point without engine cover

F1 has faced calls to accelerate the introduction of new engine rules to tempt a new manufacturer following Honda’s exit.

The three non-Honda manufacturers have cautioned against a hasty decision but agree that a cheaper engine with environmentally-friendly credentials is essential. If the next-generation engine could be brought forward from 2026 with those conditions met, Red Bull may be able to attract a new manufacturer to align with.

F1’s desire for sustainable fuels could facilitate this. If biofuels become the short-term technological focal point they could pave the way for F1’s engines to become carbon neutral, while the engine itself could become simpler and cheaper even if it retained a hybrid element.

This may then satisfy the FIA’s wish for fuel development to be preserved, the remaining engine manufacturers’ desire for a medium-term engine plan with reduced costs attached, and Red Bull’s wish to fast-track new engine rules and potentially rope in a new manufacturer.

It would also delay F1’s need to commit to a new overarching engine technology, which is difficult to do in the short-term as the automotive industry is also showing great uncertainty over which direction it should go in.

Russian GP start, F1

Whether this approach is possible by 2023 remains unknown but there is time. F1’s current V6 turbo-hybrids were committed to in the summer of 2011, two-and-a-half years before their debut.

Further discussions are expected after initial talks earlier this week in a meeting of the F1 Commission only established basic intentions. Red Bull team boss Christian Horner indicated this week that he remains optimistic his preferred solution can be agreed upon.

He expects a decision in the short term. It has been speculated that Red Bull requires an answer before a meeting with Honda at the end of November.

“Every manufacturer has got a different viewpoint,” said Horner on Friday at Imola.

“It’s great to hear that Toto would be open to a freeze but of course he would be, he has the best engine and he’d probably freeze for 20 years if he could.

“I think that ultimately this is where self-interest comes into play and the job of the regulator and the commercial rights owner has to look at the broader picture of what is right for Formula 1.

Christian Horner, Red Bull, F1

“We’ve lost a manufacturer in Honda, which is disastrous news for the sport.

“For Red Bull to take on that engine project, we just can’t comprehend thinking about open development, particularly in the world we’re currently in.

“The FIA and the commercial rights holder are having constructive discussions. That needs to take place hand in hand with the OEMs that have an involvement in the sport.

“I believe that’s what will happen and obviously some form of solution needs to be found in the coming weeks.”

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