Here we go again! Red Bull is threatening to pull both its eponymous flagship team as well as its sister AlphaTauri team out of Formula One if the series doesn’t freeze engine development starting in 2022, reports Auto Motor und Sport.
Recently, Red Bull and AlphaTauri’s engine supplier Honda announced it was withdrawing from F1 at the end of the 2021 season. As a result, Red Bull driver program head Dr. Helmut Marko told Auto Motor und Sport that the team would prefer to take over development and keep running its current Honda power units.
The reason? This would keep the team from having to rely on another manufacturer who also runs a team in F1, as is the case with all three manufacturers staying in the sport: Renault, Mercedes and Ferrari. However, Red Bull also wants a fighting chance at winning races despite this shake-up, hence the request for a development freeze.
How many times has Red Bull threatened to quit F1? Especially over engine drama? Too many times to count. Red Bull had a nasty, messy divorce from their former F1 power unit supplier, Renault, that really kicked off in 2015. To say that Renault’s power units didn’t meet Red Bull’s expectations would be an understatement. Fans all but started betting when (not if, but when) Red Bull’s cars would retire from races due to an engine failure for a while.
At the time, Red Bull said (often!) that if they didn’t get a competitive power unit, they were going to quit F1. The team made so much noise about that threat that then-F1 head Bernie Ecclestone threatened to sue Red Bull if they followed through with it. Like I said, there’s a history here.
Mercedes and Ferrari didn’t want to help out a team that could plausibly beat them with a competitive power unit. Volkswagen was supposed to purchase the Red Bull F1 team, but then Dieselgate happened. In the end, Red Bull re-signed up to run Renault power units in 2016, except they would be branded as Tag Heuer units (as in, the watch company) so that maybe, just maybe Red Bull wouldn’t publicly drag Renault through the mud as often. (That didn’t work.)
Red Bull and Renault were extra sick of each other over the next few years, at which point, that left a new supplier, Honda, whose power units in McLaren cars were performing even worse than Renault’s at the time. Even then, when the Honda partnership was coming together in 2018, Red Bull threatened to quit in 2020 if Honda couldn’t give them a championship-winning power unit, per Fox Sports. They even threatened to do Le Mans instead. Joke’s on them for Honda quitting first, I guess.
Even with a power unit that didn’t break down as much, Red Bull still loves threatening to quit early and often. Last year, they didn’t like F1’s proposed rule changes for 2019 and especially weren’t happy with the idea of losing some of the preferential treatment they were guaranteed in the current Concorde Agreement between the teams, Jalopnik notes. So, Red Bull did what Red Bull does: Threaten to quit if they don’t get their way.
Different year, same story. We’re back to a rather annoyed Red Bull being left without a power unit supplier for both its F1 teams. They can’t go back to Renault without eating an enormous slice of humble pie. The issue with Mercedes and Ferrari is still a thing, as Mercedes and Ferrari quite like it when their own teams win, and a Red Bull team with its crap together is a well-funded force to be reckoned with.
Red Bull has argued in favor of an independent supplier for years so teams like theirs can avoid power unit suppliers’ favoritism towards their own works teams. The theory is that an independent team could work closer with an independent power unit supplier as opposed to getting stuck with whatever they’re given. This independent supplier demand, of course, is another thing Red Bull previously threatened to quit F1 over if they didn’t get.
Red Bull could finally have an independent option if they take over their own development of the Honda engines. However, they argue that it would take a lot of money and some ramp-up time to get on a competitive level with the other teams running established power units in F1, hence the desire for a development freeze, Auto Motor und Sport notes. The difference between the best and the worst power unit is between 30 and 50 horsepower, so Red Bull doesn’t want to be on the “worst” side of things.
Currently, Formula One has some significant changes planned for 2022. The series wants to go to 20% biofuel in its fuels in 2022, and by 2023, it wants to run off of entirely carbon-neutral fuel, per Auto Motor und Sport. This involves new cylinder heads to handle the differences in combustion, among other changes.
Mercedes is fine with Red Bull’s proposal to halt engine development, and Renault seems fine going along with it if the engines are somewhat evenly developed before then, Auto Motor und Sport reports. Ferrari, however, is believed to be against it as they don’t think Red Bull’s situation is all that bad off. It is unclear as to whether Red Bull would be open to running a Ferrari power unit, however, AMuS believes that Ferrari is open to the idea.
So, go on, Red Bull. We dare you. I’d rather see you stick around in F1, but don’t just throw out empty threats (again) unless you’re also worried that rage-quitting might imperil future F1 race dates at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, bork driver relationships, nuke technology partnerships and obliterate other resources you’ve invested as a brand synonymous with extreme sports and top-tier racing.
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