Red Bull will be able to develop its own engine in future after agreeing a deal to take over its existing Honda power unit, team principal, Christian Horner has said.
The team has “taken control of its destiny” by setting up a new engine facility at its Milton Keynes base, which will produce the Honda-designed power unit from next year.
It will be badged Red Bull, although Honda will continue to help with manufacturing and most of its F1 staff will be taken on by the new Red Bull Powertrains Limited division.
The deal had been on the cards ever since Honda announced it would end its F1 programme last year. Horner said that buying a rival engine held little appeal because “Red Bull is almost too grown up to be a customer team”.
“We will have a facility capable of designing and operating the next generation of engines”
The demands of engine supply have also been eased after unanimous agreement by teams to freeze engine development until a new set of regulations is introduced in 2025.
By then, Red Bull will be ready to develop a unit itself, said Horner.
“We will have a facility capable of designing and operating the next generation of engines,” said Horner. “We’ll have a factory with build shops, with dynos with the relevant equipment. Of course, what we’ll need to understand is what are those new regulations?
“One assumes from the latest discussions with the FIA, that it is, likely to be a combustion engine. And it’s going to be probably 100 per cent sustainable fuels, there’ll probably be a slightly bigger emphasis on the energy recovery system.
“So, if you like, the typography of what the engine is going to be isn’t dramatically removed from where we are, it’s just evolved. So therefore the facility that we put in place for the current engine will have relevance, of course, to the future engines.
“It needs to be a long-term view, because obviously investment into the facilities to gear up for this are quite significant.
“To bring it on-site, on campus here in Milton Keynes is an enormous undertaking and one which truly integrates the Power Unit into the chassis. I think that we have taken control of our own destiny in that respect.”
Red Bull branded its Renault engine TAG Heuer in 2016 as part of a sponsorship deal but is currently planning to stick with its own brand from next year, both for the flagship team and AlphaTauri.
“It will be a Red Bull engine,” said Horner. “As Mercedes is a Mercedes, it will be an incorporated part of the car so it will just be a Red Bull.”
The team could work with a car brand or another supplier – such as a battery manufacturer – in future, he said. It will also be subject to F1’s supply arrangement, which may oblige it to supply engines to other teams.
Unlike with Renault, Red Bull has remained on good terms with Honda, and Red Bull looks to be relying heavily on that relationship as it takes on its engine-builder role.
Development of the current engine is set to continue in an effort to build on the progress that saw Red Bull and AlphaTauri secure three wins with the power unit last year. It also includes modifications for E10 fuel, with a higher biofuel content, that will only be introduced next year.
“[Honda] are continuing the optimisation of the engine,” said Horner. “They brought forward developments that they’d planned for next year already into this year which is an enormous effort, so the main challenge is the optimisation and the development of the E10 fuel.
“So it’s business as usual very much for the 2021 year. They will hand over the engine effectively for the start of the freeze, and they will continue to assist during 2022 with the assembly of engines. I have to say Honda have been tremendously accommodating to enable this to happen and to give us the necessary time to get ourselves geared up.”
The team still needs to recruit a managing director and technical director. Horner dismissed suggestions that Andy Cowell, who recently left Mercedes after leading development of the title-winning engine would defect to Red Bull. “My understanding is that his interests currently lie outside F1,” he said.
He was more circumspect when asked about Ilmor’s Mario Illien, who was behind Mercedes’ F1 success with McLaren in the late 1990s, and has also worked on Honda’s F1 engine.
Red Bull was expected to leave F1 if next year’s engine development freeze had been rejected, which would have left the team having to secure an engine from its rivals.
In another apparent dig at Renault, Horner said that the prospect of continuing on that basis would not have appealed to the team.
“The appetite shall we say would have been much diminished,” he said. “Red Bull is almost too grown up to be a customer team, we saw that it could be uneasy and of course the aspirations of this team surpass that of some of the current suppliers.”
Now, however, the team is turning its eyes to resuming the fight with Mercedes, with the hope of challenging for the title “as soon as possible”.
“We demonstrated within Abu Dhabi that [Mercedes] are beatable at a track that they’ve been unbeaten at for the previous six or seven years,” said Horner. “We just need to be able to do that on a consistent basis across the 22 or three races. And I think that we’re gathering momentum.
“We’ve just got to focus on each race at a time, get the most out of it we can, make sure that we do the best job we can with the new regs for 2022 within the confines of the regulations. And then we’ll see.”