Efter förra veckans principbeslut av F1-kommissionen att motorreglementet fryses efter 2021 kom igår det väntade beskedet att Red Bull tar över de intellektuella rättigheterna till Hondas motor, vilket i sin tur betyder Red Bull säkrat en motor fram till och med 2024 för både Red Bull Racing och systerteamet Alpha Tauri.
Samtidigt finns en hel del frågor kring hur detta ska gå och till min hjälp har jag som vanligt Scott Mitchell som reder ut begreppen
Firstly, frozen engine regulations. What does that mean?
Last year, when F1 agreed several changes to save costs, the limit on engine upgrades was made even stricter.
Instead of being able to introduce three specifications of engine during the season, the manufacturers had to homologate the design used at the first race and were not allowed to upgrade it again all year.
They were then allowed to update the specification between the end of the 2020 season and the end of 2021, with most manufacturers working towards having that upgrade very for the very start of the new season.
This was meant to happen again for the start of 2022, and again for the start of 2023. But then the engine specifications would be frozen for three years until 2026.
Now, the freeze begins at the start of 2022. It means engine manufacturers can upgrade their engine between the end of 2021 and the first race next year – but then they will not be permitted to update them at all, locking in performance levels for three years (with the next-generation engine moved forward to 2025).
Why was frozen engine regs so important to Red Bull?
Because even though Red Bull will be taking over Honda’s engines it never believed itself financially or technologically capable of upgrading these engines.
So whatever Red Bull started the 2022 season with in performance terms it would have been stuck with for good.
And if the freeze didn’t come in until 2023, that would have meant rival manufacturers being able to upgrade their engines at the end of 2022 – given Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault an extra development cycle and potentially leaving Red Bull with a significant disadvantage for three seasons.
What is Red Bull now up against in terms of running the “Honda” engine?
The challenge for Red Bull is to fund the expansion of its facility in the UK. It needs to be equipped with a lot of tools to be able to maintain and build the Honda engine in 2022 and beyond.
To do that, Red Bull will redeploy some of its existing personnel, but crucially it will also take over a Honda development facility near the Red Bull base in Milton Keynes.
And it will also inherit Honda personnel, which gives it a headstart in terms of having the staff and the facilities required.
The good news for Red Bull is that Honda, slightly unusually, has decided to keep developing in the background until it leaves F1. Red Bull expects it to have assistance until December 31, 2021.
As F1 is switching fuels next year – with a 10% biofuel mix – the combustion engines have to be upgraded to work with the new specification. Honda is going to carry out that development work so it hands over an up-to-date engine to Red Bull and AlphaTauri in 2022.
It means Red Bull doesn’t have to worry about falling behind at all, or having to fund or carry out a costly or complicated development programme. That’s a big short-term win, even though it doesn’t make much sense for Honda – which is basically funding a huge upgrade project even though it will lose all the branding rights to that engine next year!
Is Honda in any way involved in Red Bulls engines from 22 and onwards?
Yes, in addition to upgrading the 2021 engine so that Red Bull has that updated spec for 2022, Honda will be handing over a certain number of personnel, too.
It will also be assisting with the assembly of the engines next year while Red Bull’s new company is built up.
But there will be no recognition for those efforts as the engine is set to be entered under the Red Bull name.
Will running their “own” engine hold Red Bull back compared to the other big manufacturers? They don’t have any experience running an engine in the past and it is a very complicated power unit?
That will depend on whether Red Bull encounters any major problems with Honda’s upgraded 2022 engine, but theoretically this is ‘only’ maintenance and Red Bull should have the facilities and the personnel from Honda and Austrian specialist company AVL to manage that.
Where it will get tricky is if the power unit develops a problem that Honda would normally solve by immediately identifying it and putting something on a test bench at Sakura to recreate the fault and find the cause.
Red Bull will probably not have the same rapid reaction time as the main engine manufacturers, at least in 2022. Maybe in time, as its Powertrains company grows, it will respond faster.
Any upsides from the announcement for Red Bull or is it just damage control?
This is the best of a bad situation for Red Bull. Ideally it wouldn’t have to be spending a huge amount of money setting up a new company to embark on a project it has no real experience in…
However, losing a partner like Honda would normally be a massive body blow, and this solution actually reduces the impact significantly.
Honda’s redoubled its efforts to give Red Bull a proper parting gift in 2021 with an all-new engine and it has chosen to take on the development work for 2022 as well. That’s a massive boost for Red Bull in the short-term.
Plus, for 2022, Red Bull doesn’t have to worry about staffing a new engine division from scratch as Honda will still be assisting in a small capacity and will be handing over a lot of staff.
Then in the longer-term, Red Bull will have the facilities and the experience to seriously consider its own design for the next-generation engine in 2025. Ideally it will attract a new brand in for that, but at least it now has a serious alternative.
That puts Red Bull’s F1 future more firmly in its control than ever, which is definitely a positive.