One of the most intriguing aspects of the 2022 F1 season will be the ongoing presence of Honda at Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri, despite the manufacturer’s official withdrawal from the sport.
Honda will continue to provide a high level of support to the newly formed Red Bull Powertrains, and will supply complete power units from Japan. In theory its engineers will be working as hard as in previous years – the big difference is that Red Bull is now paying for their services.
The original plan was for RBP to assemble the engines in Milton Keynes from 2023 to 2025, but Red Bull motorsport boss Helmut Marko revealed in late January that the plan has changed – and Honda will continue to deliver complete units from Japan for the duration of the current rules.
Meanwhile RBT’s engineering team, which features former Mercedes HPP personnel in many of the key roles, will use that period to create an all-new Red Bull PU for the regulations
that come into force in 2026.
The exercise represents a massive financial commitment from company boss Dietrich Mateschitz.
One thing was clear from an early stage – RBR wanted to be master of its own destiny, and not be at the whim of a supplier, having endured a difficult relationship with Renault in the past and been rejected by Mercedes when it tried to make a change.
“I think that having experienced the same commitment that the chassis guys show on the engine side, and their being fully integrated, to go back to a customer scenario would have been very difficult,” says RBR team principal Christian Horner. “To say that
we would have to accommodate what Alpine wanted, or Ferrari, would have been difficult. Having experienced that, we have to take control.”
Red Bull motor sport chief Helmut Marko makes it clear that the prospect of doing business with a rival did not appeal. “RBT was the only solution,” says the Austrian. “Go back to Renault?
We are too proud for it. Mercedes? Niki [Lauda] promised us an engine, Toto [Wolff] stopped it.
And Ferrari. I can’t see if we beat Ferrari that the next engine is anywhere near the same!”
The development freeze was crucial to the deal. From a standing start and with the 2026 project also underway RBT would not have had the resources with which to improve the current engine.
The one complication was the FIA’s move from E5 to E10 fuel for 2022. It’s a significant change, and it explains why the ongoing Honda support was so important through the winter and into this season.
“Fundamental to the decision, or the agreement being reached, was the freeze from the FIA,” says Horner. “That was supposed to happen pre-Christmas , and in the end happened in February. So that delayed the agreement with Honda. And obviously we needed them to develop their engine, or their philosophy, with the E10 fuel. So Honda agreed to do that to the point that the E10 fuel is introduced.”
“We are paying for it, and also the development for the E-fuel from five to 10% was a quite expensive package,” says Marko. “But again, you can’t see it as just money for the engine. There is so much more co-operation between the two companies, and all on a very efficient and friendly basis.”
The creation of RBT from scratch is no small undertaking, albeit made easier by the fact that many Honda Racing Development personnel have transitioned to the new organisation.
“The engines will continue to be assembled in Japan this year,” says Horner. “We will have technical support from some Honda personnel, which gives us 12 months to complete our facility.
We inherit close to 100 people from HRD UK. They’re all super-skilled and have been a key part of what we’ve achieved with the engine so far.”
“The company is on the way,” says Marko. “We had some dynos delivered, not all of them because they are so huge. If there are any roadworks on the motorway they can’t pass because they are so wide! And recruitment is moving forward. Christian is involved in that. There is one area, our chassis and engine together. They are not just an engine company, they are part of the race team.”