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Formula 1

Who could take on Honda engine development for Red Bull?

by Mark Hughes
4 min read

One of the strong possibilities for the post-2021 power unit role for the Red Bull and AlphaTauri teams is that Honda hands over the IP for its 2021 design and it is built and developed by an independent engineering company.

Honda’s Masashi Yamamoto has already gone on record to The Race saying Honda could be prepared to do this.

Given that Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff today gave a definite no to Mercedes supplying the teams, a continuation of the promising Honda project under the guise of an independent may be deemed preferable to customer deals from either Renault or Ferrari (both of which have supplied Red Bull in the past).

Should that be the way Red Bull chooses to go, which would be the contending independent entities that would be equipped to take on such a project?


Heinz Harald Frentzen Jordan Malaysian Grand Prix 2000 Sepang

Mugen is strongly associated with Honda, founded in 1973 as an independent racing-focused engineering company by Hirotoshi Honda, son of the founder of Honda.

Despite the family connection, Honda has no ownership in the company but the two are historically very closely aligned.

As well as spells as the dominant supplier in Formula 3 and F3000, it has in the past competed in F1 as an engine supplier, invariably with Honda based engines. The most recent occasion was as Jordan’s supplier in 2000.

But it also supplied Tyrrell (maintaining its early 1990s supply of ex-works Hondas), Footwork, Lotus and Ligier. Mugen won its first grand prix as an engine supplier in 1996 with Olivier Panis’s Ligier at Monaco. It followed with race victories at Jordan in 1998-99 and was part of the team that put Heinz-Harald Frentzen into 1999 world championship contention.

It would surely be favourite for any continuation of the Honda F1 hybrid project and would be most likely to get Honda’s blessing.


Mika Hakkinen McLaren British Grand Prix 1999 Silverstone

Ilmor Engineering was founded in the 1980s by two ex-Cosworth engineers Mario Illien and Paul Morgan. The latter was killed in 2001 landing his vintage Hawker Sea Fury plane. Ilmor was the company behind the Mercedes F1 engines provided to McLaren since 1995 and designed and built the world title-winning V10s of 1998 and ’99.

In the early 2000s Mercedes bought out Ilmor and this was the entity that eventually became Mercedes HPP.

But Illien, in partnership with Roger Penske, set up a new Ilmor company – and this has achieved success throughout the racing world. Significantly one of its first major successes was in partnership with Honda in supplying the dominant Indy Racing League engines of 2004 and ’05.

Tony Kanaan Andretti-Green IndyCar 2004

Ilmor currently builds Chevrolet’s IndyCar engines – as the chief opposition to the Honda IndyCar programme. Which may form a complication.

Although Ilmor is now headed by Steve Miller, Illien retains strong links with the company. He assisted Red Bull and Renault Sport with the development of its turbo hybrid in 2015 and ’16 and even co-operated with Honda in solving a vibration issue with last year’s power unit.


Cosworth logo

Cosworth, like Ilmor, is conveniently close to Red Bull’s Milton Keynes base and is perhaps the most famous independent engine supplier in motorsport history, with its DFV design being the dominant engine in F1 for well over a decade after its 1967 introduction.

It currently provides a hybrid power unit for British Touring Cars and was the creator of the engine powering the Red Bull Aston Martin Valkyrie hypercar, as well as the V12 in Gordon Murray’s new supercar.



AVL is based in Graz, very close to the Red Bull company’s corporate base. The two companies have liaised on engineering projects in the past but AVL also numbers Ferrari among its clients as well as several major OEM automotive manufacturers.

It specialises in engineering R&D, including hybrid and electric powertrains. AVL has the specialist engine dynos needed for F1 testing and it’s believed Red Bull has tested its Renault engines there in the past.

Honda has in fact already used AVL as a consultant on the F1 programme, making use of its validation systems. But it is understood that the two parties parted after a disagreement.

A further complication to such a partnership could be that AVL is currently contracted by NISMO, the motorsport offshoot of Honda’s automotive rival Nissan.

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