Honda Coy About Red Bull Negotiations
One of the big questions ahead of the 2019 Formula One season is whether the Red Bull Racing team will be partnering with Honda, but the latter has been giving nothing away about the negotiations that are almost certainly going on behind the scenes.
Honda is already indirectly working with Red Bull via Toro Rosso (Italian for “Red Bull”), its sister team, who swapped engine suppliers with McLaren at the end of the 2017 season.
Red Bull’s relationship with its current engine partner, Renault, has been steadily disintegrating since 2014, and the French manufacturer has made it clear it does not want to renew its contract with the team when its contract expires at the end of this year.
There are two principal reasons for the friction between Red Bull and Renault. The first and most important is that Renault has for the last four years produced both a slower and less reliable engine than Mercedes or Ferrari.
At 2018 Chinese Grand Prix last weekend, Daniel Ricciardo—who would go on to win the race—was almost unable to qualify because Renault had not provided the team with a fully dressed engine, and Red Bull mechanics were forced to waste precious time moving parts over from the old unit.
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These kinds of issues have led Red Bull team principal Christian Horner to quite vocally criticize the Renault unit, especially prior to 2016, when the engine was rebranded to TAG Heuer in a bid to salvage their relationship.
Furthermore, Renault is now fully invested into Formula One as a factory team, and like Mercedes and Ferrari, it will be hoping to win the championship with its own team rather than with Red Bull as it had from 2010 to 2013.
Unfortunately for Renault, a clause in its contract with Red Bull allows the FIA to force Renault to provide Red Bull with engines so that it can continue to compete in Formula One, should the team fail to find another supplier.
Mercedes and Ferrari are not going to give their biggest competitor an engine, which leaves Honda as the only other existing alternative. This puts Red Bull in an interesting position: does it continue its souring partnership with Renault or does it switch to Honda, which has been off to a promising start this season?
And thanks to its relationship with Toro Rosso, Red Bull has all the data it needs to make a fully informed decision. Should the team choose to make the switch for 2019, it will be a big sign that it believes in Honda’s ability to deliver a championship-winning engine.