Red Bull signed Honda as its engine supplier since 2018, starting with the junior team before powering the main team from 2019 onwards. Both teams have enjoyed a few wins and podiums during their partnership. However, Honda recently announced at a press conference in its Tokyo HQ that it is withdrawing from Formula 1 at the end of the 2021 season.
This would be the fourth time that the Japanese automaker will be exiting the sport. One of the main reasons cited for the exit was the current economic climate that has been acutely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. F1 is an expensive endeavour with its high-tech hybrid powertrains. Honda doesn’t see its future automotive aspirations aligning with the requirements of the sport that doesn’t plan to change the engine regulations before 2026. The press release also stated that the brand’s goal of achieving net carbon neutrality by 2050 which also required them to redirect R&D resources away from F1.
While the current F1 turbo-hybrid engines are the most efficient the sport has ever seen with their power-to-consumption ratio, it still uses up a lot of resources overall. Honda has come to taste mild success with the Austrian caffienator, but their program’s rocky start in 2015 has made it hard for the company’s board to continue supporting the endeavour.
While Red Bull would have known about this ahead of the public announcement since that was their original agreement anyway (2021 added to it due to the 2020 COVID conditions that delayed new technical regulations), it still puts both of its F1 teams in a bit of a tough spot. After their rough breakup with previous engine supplier Renault, the Austrian brand wouldn’t be thrilled to go back to the French automaker. However, neither might have a say in the matter. Since Red Bull has recently signed the new Concorde till the end of 2025, the rules state that the engine supplier with the least clients is obliged to provide the team with fair engines. Given that Renault would have no customer teams at the end of 2020 while Mercedes and Ferrari still have multiple clients, the French brand would HAVE to abide by the rules and sign an agreement with Red Bull unless the team can find an alternative.
Since there are no significant changes in F1 engine tech and regulations till 2026, its unlikely that any other OEM would join the sport before then. There were internet rumours of Red Bull picking up where Honda left off and making their own engines between 2022 and 2025. However, that seems extremely impractical and unlikely given the costs and complications of building a competitive power unit even with the new budget caps. Meanwhile, there are also talks of Red Bull’s star driver Max Verstappen jumping ship post-2021 even though he signed a deal before the start of this season to stay with the team till the end of 2023. However, it is unlikely that the Dutchman will be fussed over this until summer 2021 and would likely stay focussed on the season at hand.
Alpha Tauri on the other hand could find itself in a less sticky situation since it’s not seen as championship contender to the factory teams. In fact, they might even consider going back to Ferrari if the fellow Italian outfit can show improvements and offer a good deal as well.
For now, it’s better for Honda and the two Red Bull teams to enjoy their current success behind the seemingly uncatchable Mercedes factory team. In fact, it’s the only engine supplier who has enjoyed a race win with two different teams in the turbo-hybrid era since 2014. Verstappen is still able to split the two Mercedes drivers often enough to have a chance at P2 in the 2020 driver’s championship. He’s had 16 podiums which include 4 wins with the Honda-powered Red Bull. Alpha Tauri has enjoyed its second-ever win this year with two podiums in 2019 and could still see another podium before the season is over.
What do you make of Honda’s exit from Formula 1 (again)? Which OEM would you like to see enter F1 next? Share your thoughts in the comments below and don’t forget to subscribe to the Auto Loons blog for more updates.