BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The big freeze is in and that has prevented Red Bull and sister team AlphaTauri from possibly pulling out of Formula One.
Would they really have quit? They certainly were threatening to do so and it would have been a big blow to the sport and business of F-1 if there would have been eight instead of 10 teams — a reduction of 20 percent.
This all started in October when Honda stunned the racing world by announcing it would withdraw from F-1 at the end of 2021.
“In Formula One we have reached our goal of scoring victories, and achieved certain results,” Honda President Takahiro Hachigo said. “Now we will put our strength into innovation in the new field of power units, carbon-free energy and achieving carbon neutrality. This could be a challenge as difficult as Formula One.”
This created a quandary for the two Red Bull teams, which would need power units for 2022 and beyond. Mercedes is already supplying four teams this year, including itself, and Ferrari three.
A distasteful option was Renault/Alpine, which is flying solo this year and, by the regulations, would have to lease power units to the two teams. But that would have been awkward given the bitter divorce between Renault and Red Bull at the end of 2018.
So Red Bull and Honda explored the option of Red Bull taking over Honda’s Formula One project. It would be an expensive option and only doable if Red Bull did not have to pay to operate the power units and also develop them. There would be no way Red Bull could keep pace financially and technically with Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault.
That’s why Red Bull and AlphaTauri successfully lobbied the FIA, Formula One and the other teams to agree to a development freeze on power units from 2022 through 2024. There will be completely new power unit regulations in 2025.
No freeze, Red Bull threatened, and we will take our toys — and our cars — and go home.
The Red Bull/Honda agreement covers the duration of the development freeze, enabling the use of Honda power unit technology until the next generation of engines is introduced in 2025.
In order to run the project, a new company named Red Bull Powertrains Limited was formed. This new division will be housed and operated from Red Bull Racing’s U.K. base on the Red Bull Technology Campus in Milton Keynes.
There was another possible threat, and that was — and still is — the possibility of star driver Max Verstappen leaving Red Bull before his current contract expires at the end of 2023.
Like many drivers, there are performance clauses in Verstappen’s contract on both the team and driver’s side. If either does not perform up to a certain standard, the contract can be nullified.
“Of course, as there has always been, there is an element of performance related to Max’s contract,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. “I’m confident that we won’t need to refer to any contractual clauses. It will ultimately be down to us to deliver a competitive car. That’s what he wants and that’s what we want.”
All this is just a temporary three-year fix for Red Bull and AlphaTauri because they will have to find a completely new power unit for 2025. Those regulations have yet to be finalized, but the goal is to reduce costs and reach carbon neutrality.
Other key objectives for 2025 include environmental sustainability and social and automotive relevance; fully sustainable fuel; creating a powerful and emotive power unit; significant cost reduction; and attractiveness to new power unit manufacturers.
Horner has not ruled out Red Bull becoming an actual power unit manufacturer from 2025 onward.
“You’ve both got a short-term scenario of the existing regulations,” he said, “and then, of course, whatever the new regulations are. We need to be in a position to take that on as well. We will have a facility capable of designing and operating the next generation of engines.”
But, however impressive the facilities at Red Bull Powertrains Limited, the company would still have to go up against full-bore automotive manufacturers. One option would be for Red Bull to link up with another manufacturer.
As for Verstappen, he can just sit back, see how things develop and then choose what option is best for him.