The sudden announcement that Honda will be ending its F1 engine deal after the 2021 season may have left Red Bull an extremely awkward position.
Not only are Red Bull and sister team AlphaTauri without a power unit supplier for the 2021 season, the team is facing the real possibility of having to go back to Renault for their engine needs.
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The Honda news was shocking for many on the F1 grid with Dutch racing driver Tom Coronel likening it to being “left at the altar”.
“This is really shocking news,” he told Motorsport.com.
“From Red Bull’s perspective, they weren’t even married yet. It was some kind of engagement, and they wanted to get married. Actually at the altar Honda now say ‘no, we’re not getting married’. That’s kind of the feeling at Red Bull.
“At the end of the ride they only worked with Red Bull Racing for three years, that was obviously not the idea behind it.
“The rough diamond Max Verstappen is now cut more and more beautifully and they are almost at Mercedes’ level. Actually, Red Bull-Honda is the only combination that’s still in their league. And then you quit … Anyway, of course we only look at this issue with a motorsport heart.”
Honda said in a statement on Friday that the reason it was pulling out was to focus its resources on the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
But when Honda pull out, there will be only three power unit suppliers in Renault, Mercedes and Ferrari, with Appendix 9 of the FIA sporting regulations “obliging the manufacturer with the least partners to supply a competitor with no alternatives”, according to autosport.com.
Currently, Mercedes supply Williams, Racing Point (which will be renamed Aston Martin next season) and McLaren from 2021, who are moving on from Renault, while Ferrari supply Alfa Romeo and Haas.
While mutually beneficial as Renault will only be supplying one team as of 2021, it’s own works team which will be renamed Alpine, it set up an awkward reunion after the groups left on less than amicable terms.
While Red Bull do have other options including trying to buy the Honda engine IP, trying to get Honda to sell it to a third party, convincing a new manufacturer to come on board or convincing Mercedes or Ferrari to sell engines to them, Renault appears to be the easiest option.
Renault’s team principal Cyril Abiteboul said Red Bull had not yet made contact but that the French outfit were ready to supply engines if required.
“Being in the sport we are well aware of the regulation, and we have every intent to comply with the regulation and with our obligations,” he said.
“Obviously it‘s a bit more detailed – we need to be requested, and we have not been requested yet, and secondly there are very specific circumstances, including timing, for this to happen. And we are still quite far from that window, which is not before the spring of next year.
“We know that in F1 lots of things can happen in a very limited amount of time, and spring 2021 is still very far. All sorts of things can happen. As I say we will comply with any obligation which may arise from this circumstance.”
He also admitted that it would be awkward, particularly with out the 11-year partnership ended in 2018.
“I think so, but we need obviously to look at the sport. And I think we are still very far away from having to possibly cross that bridge,” Abiteboul said.
“I can‘t imagine that Red Bull would not have some plan in the background. Clearly they must have been aware of this, and Helmut (Marko) and Christian (Horner) are full of moves and solutions. I don’t expect that we will be their Plan A.”
After winning four championships on the back of Sebastian Vettel’s 2010 to 2013 run, the relationship soured.
Coinciding with the final season of Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull before he moved to Renault, the Aussie was stuck in the middle of an ugly battle between the teams. He had eight retirements in 20 races in 2018 and finished sixth in the driver’s championship.
Red Bull chief adviser Helmut Marko said Ricciardo had two bleak years ahead of him when he left the team for Renault.
Red Bull weren’t alone in the criticisms and jabs either with Renault taking their licks as well but the teams may be forced to renew their uneasy alliance.
More than the issues between the teams, the Honda departure could spell trouble for the entire sport with Sky Sports’ Martin Brundle admitting “there is no way you can paint a positive picture on the Honda news”.
And with a change in F1’s engine regulations expected in 2026, Brundle said the current V6 hybrid engines are “too heavy, too expensive and too complex” for a new manufacturer to compete with the current three.
“It‘s now about what F1 does next in terms of creating an exciting power unit for the show and the fans,” he said. “We all miss the V8s and the V10s and Mick Schumacher driving Michael’s 2004 car at Mugello the other week just reminded us how evocative and exciting the engines of that era were. For me, Formula 1 is entertainment first and foremost and we’ve got to have a power unit that entertains and excites.”