If the press conferences in Germany last week were any indication, Formula 1 is still trying to process what Honda’s exit from the sport following the 2021 season really means to the balance of power.
Red Bull and AlphaTauri—the two teams most affected—certainly are taking their time in announcing their engine plans for 2022.
Honda leadership says the exit from F1 was needed so that it can focus more on carbon-neutral products. Not everyone in the F1 paddock, however, is buying that as a good enough reason to leave and to leave two teams—Red Bull and AlphaTauri—high and dry when Honda leaves after the 2021 season.
“I think it’s a shame that Honda has decided against Formula 1,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said last weekend at the Nurburgring during Eifel Grand Prix press availability. “I believe it’s always a ratio of risk versus return. At the end of the day, each of us needs to provide an ROI—Return on Investment—that makes sense. So, whatever capital you deploy for the investment in Formula 1 needs to guarantee or needs to return sensible marketing value and, if that is not the case, I can understand that somebody says ‘we’ve tried it and it didn’t function.’
“Unfortunately this sport is about, in my belief, not only about investment but also that all the investment doesn’t buy you success because it’s a long-term commitment that you need to provide. We have seen it with Mercedes. We had a couple of really painful years and managed to turn it around.”
Wolff said that not only does F1 need partners, its needs partners in it for the long haul.
“It’s certainly not great for us to lose an engine manufacturer.”
“In the past, OEMs came and left, many of them, including Honda, BMW, Toyota and many more and yeah, that’s unfortunate,” Woff said. “Formula 1 needs a stable commitment from all of us and needs to have the buy-in from the board, saying ‘OK, we launch ourselves into this, it might be difficult, we’re setting our expectations low but at a certain time we will turn this around.’ But, at the end, we need to accept it.
“It’s certainly not great for us to lose an engine manufacturer. It’s a problem for Red Bull so yeah, I’ll be missing those guys. They were a good part of the paddock.”
The loss of Honda will leave F1 with three engine manufacturers—Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault. By current agreement between the FIA and F1 teams, Renault, as the manufacturer currently supplying engines to the fewest teams, will be asked to supply engines in 2022 to Red Bull and AlphaTauri.
Red Bull and AlphaTauri are also free to strike their own deals with Mercedes or Ferrari. Red Bull could also manufacturer their own engines or even help bring in a new OEM to the series.
Many seem to think tight now it’s Renault or nothing for Red Bull and AlphaTauri. Neither Mercedes nor Ferrari seem anxious to cut some kind of deal to help out one of their chief rivals.
“No. Because… for various reasons… but the main being that we are supplying four teams including us.” Mercedes’ Wolff said. “We are almost in a state that we can’t make power units for all of us so there is no capacity. But I have no doubt that (Red Bull’s) Helmut (Mako) will have a Plan B, as he said, and probably doesn’t need to rely on any of the current power unit suppliers.”
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said that it likely won’t be Ferrari, though he did leave that door open a crack.
“Obviously we were not considering it.” Binotto said. “(Maybe it’s) something that we need to start considering now. I think we have not decided, as far as I think it will be down to Red Bull eventually to look at us and ask for a supply. They are a great team, no doubt. I think that supplying them is as well a lot of energy, somehow, which is required but something which we need to consider and something on which we have no position yet. On which we need certainly to take our time to think at and have a decision.
“I think timing-wise, it’s very little time —because we need to organize ourselves, 2022 is just here behind, which is tomorrow, somehow. So, as we said, it was somehow sudden news from Honda and I think that now we need to consider something that was even not considered a few days ago.
Meanwhile, Red Bull has yet to reach out to Renault about 2022.
“I can confirm I have not been contacted by Red Bull in relation to engine supply,” Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul said. “More seriously, I don’t think it’s a question of whether we are open or not open. We know the regulation. When you are a participant to the sport you have to accept the rules. It’s part of the sporting regulation. So, we know what that is.”
For his part, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner seems content to take his time, but the clock toward 2022 is ticking.
“You’ve got to be open to all possibilities,” Horner said. “We see in this sport that sometimes the unexplainable can happen, and it’s our duty to look at what is the most competitive way forward in 2022. We have the time. Honda have afforded us that time.
“If they’d have made this decision in the spring of next year or in the autumn of next year, it would have been a far worse scenario for us. So we’re only just halfway through the relationship with Honda and we’ve achieved a lot in the time that we’ve been together. We aim to achieve a lot more in the remaining time that we have together.”
Someone might want to get Horner and fine folks over at Red Bull Racing a calendar. The 2022 season is right around the corner, especially in terms of time it will take to develop a competitive engine. So, what do you think? Is Red Bull in trouble? Does Honer have a trick up his sleeve? Comment below!
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