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Daniel Ricciardo is one of the big names driving Silly Season (credit: Getty Images)

F1 Midweek: Is Red Bull’s Two-Year Engine Deal With Honda The Right Decision?

Given an ultimatum that the Red Bull Racing Team only had until the end of this week to decide whether they want to extend their engine contract with Renault, it was finally decided on Tuesday (June 19th) that the Austrian drinks manufacturer will no longer have their engines supplied by the French company in 2019, and signed a two-year deal with Honda.

It will be a deal that will supply not only Red Bull, but also their sister team, Toro Rosso, who currently are using the Japanese engine this season.

Honda became a possible choice for Red Bull when, following many political ideas, Renault left Toro Rosso and supplied engines to McLaren, leaving Honda with only one engine partner. Normally engine companies like Ferrari and Mercedes have supplied mostly three teams.

Between 2010 and 2013, Red Bull won four consecutive world drivers and constructors championships, being powered by the Renault engine. But in 2014, when hybrids were introduced, and Renault’s engine became a problem, it led to Red Bull almost departing from the French manufacturer. The two renewed their contract in 2016.

Since then, there have been some victories, but the engine has been short on power in comparison to Ferrari and Mercedes. In addition, the Renault label was taken off the car and replaced with Tag Heuer, a Swiss watch manufacturer, to call it simply a Tag Heuer branded Renault engine.

What caused the final decision for Red Bull was that Renault needed a solid answer to decide how much inventory they needed for engine distribution for customers. Red Bull wanted to wait until July 1st at their home race to decide. But Renault felt that Red Bull was stalling, and this sealed the deal since Red Bull felt that the Honda engine was showing promise when it performed well on the Toro Rosso at the last round in Canada, something that Team Manager Christian Horner agreed on.

“We decided that based on the information we had after Montreal that our decision, driven by engineering, was pretty clear cut in the end,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said to ESPN F1. “We felt that rather than things getting delayed or taking further time — Renault were also keen to have a decision as soon as possible to get their own plans in place — we decided that the time was right to make that decision and commitment and make that announcement today.”

Renault felt that after 2014, the two teams failed to come together for a works deal earlier, and bond as a controlled customer/supplier relationship. It curtailed into an attitude problem between the two, which spiraled out of control. To Renault sporting director Cyril Abiteboul, the problem lied in not having the French manufacturer’s engineers work closely enough with the Red Bull personnel.

“What we did not manage to do is understand and appreciate the complexity of the 2014 regulations and appreciate together that the model of a customer on one side and a supplier on the other side was completely blown away by the new regulations,” said Abiteboul, who reminded many earlier in the season.

Tuesday, he added,

“That’s why Mercedes and also Ferrari were the two teams to take advantage of that — they are great teams, have great facilities, well-resourced good people but it’s also because they are fully integrated. That level of integration, we didn’t see that coming — neither Red Bull nor Renault. That was our common mistake, that we didn’t manage to support and identify and to react and correct. So we have been a little bit complacent with the model in which we wanted to collectively operate. That was not appropriate, that was not suitable or adapted to those new regulations. I think by keeping us as a supplier and by us keeping them as a customer at arm’s length, it has also undermined the capacity for Viry — our engine base — to be in close contact with the racing. All the discussion that we have about oil combustion and qualifying modes are things that we have never thought of and that is a direct consequence of the way we are working with Red Bull, and a direct consequence also of the fact that we had lost contact by not being a works team, or not being associated with a team that was considering us a complete partner. We’ve lost ground by not being in the racing environment. That’s one of the things that we are rebuilding now that we have a works team.”

With Renault improving both in their chassis and the engine, was it a mistake for Red Bull to sign for a powerplant that McLaren could not handle after three seasons?

Only time will tell, until 2021.

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About Mark Gero

Mark Gero
Mark is a motorsports journalist specializing in the field for the last 16 years in Formula 1 with experience in covering team launches, feature stories and race weekends during the season. In addition, Mark covers the World Endurance Championship, which includes the 24 Hours of Lemans. He also speaks French up to an intermediate level, with a basic understanding of German. Have worked for agencies as Racing Information Service News, Racing Nation, Fansided, the Munich Eye Newspaper in Munich, Germany, and Autoweek magazine. Mark is also a knowledgeable Formula 1 driver after graduating from both the F1 International and AGS racing academies.

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2 comments

  1. Avatar

    This is the equivalent of giving Adrian Newey the task of reintroducing the Volvo 240. I wonder where Ricciardo is going to wind up?

  2. Avatar

    Think this will work to both sides benefit. It gives Red Bull the advantage of being the flagship team for a manufacturer. At the same time it removes some of the friction that Renault had dealt with from Red Bull. I look for more success from both sides. Now whether it will let them close the gap to Ferrari and Mercedes we shall see. Probably close the gap but not pull even I would think.