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F1 Engine Freeze Could Keep Honda Powering Red Bull Till 2025

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This image of Albon scoring his first career podium has nothing to do with an F1 engine freeze
Red Bull Racing celebrates Alexander Albon’s first F1 podium finish at the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix
Photo: Honda

Honda will officially pull out of Formula 1 after the 2021 season, leaving the Red Bull Racing team and its sister organization, AlphaTauri, in a tricky situation. So far, the most likely eventuality is that the energy drink company’s racing outfit, based in Milton Keynes, will take over the Honda engine project until 2025.

Since joining the sport, Red Bull Racing has always been a customer team, purchasing engines from other manufacturers such as Cosworth and Ferrari. It enjoyed success with Renault, scoring four consecutive world championship titles from 2010 to 2013. However, its relationship with the French manufacturer soured after turbo-hybrid V6 regulations were introduced in 2014.

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In 2019, after having trialed Honda engines via AlphaTauri for a year, Red Bull Racing partnered with Honda instead, and this new alliance came with some success: Honda-powered cars raced to three wins and 11 podiums in 2019, and three wins and 14 podiums in 2020. But with Honda leaving at the end of the upcoming season, Red Bull Racing is left with only two real options: crawling back to Renault for 2022, or taking over the IP of the Honda project.

The latter option has a major hurdle. F1 engine manufacturers routinely upgrade their power units throughout the course of a season — but Red Bull Racing is not an engine manufacturer. Realistically, its development of the Honda power unit would quickly lag behind rivals who are pouring tens of millions of dollars into making their engines faster and more reliable.

Fortunately for Red Bull Racing, one potential and increasingly likely solution is that the FIA establishes an F1 engine freeze, keeping all power unit manufacturers on the same playing field as they find themselves by the end of the 2021 season. This has the advantage of reducing costs for teams but could also prevent them from overcoming performance disadvantages. Initially, Ferrari and Renault were against the idea, but Autosport reports they are warming up to it.

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“We’ve got constructive discussions going on with Honda and the FIA, and I think that we are close to coming to a conclusion,” said Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing team principal. “The FIA are consulting the other teams. I think there’s alignment regarding a freeze. It’s just, should there be a safety net if an engine manufacturer under shoots from one season to the next? Otherwise, to lock in performance for three years, could be quite damaging.”

Ferrari boss Mattia Binoto says Ferrari is open to an F1 engine freeze now that the FIA has also decided to bring the new 2026 engine regulations forward to 2025. And according to Red Bull motorsport advisor Dr. Helmut Marko, those regulations could be just what the team needs to invest in its own engine program.

“If the hints become true that the new engine is much simpler in design; that the MGU-H is eliminated, and that it remains innovative but the annual cost limit is somewhere around 50 million, then it’s no longer such a complex issue as the current engine,” Marko explained. “That means you could then do the development for such an engine with the paraphernalia we will have in Milton Keynes.”