Red Bull’s 2016 PU: The pieces of the puzzle


Well its the day after the day before – TJ13 captured the eyes of many in Formula One yesterday with our revelation that Red Bull Racing will be building their own Formula One engines in partnership with Mario Illien of Ilmor. This story has since spawned a number of articles on the matter, two are worthy of particular note.

Here’s an excellent article from Matt Somerfield of SomersF1, describing in detail some of the recent work Mario Illien has been involved in along with his recent connections to the Renault F1 power unit programme: A Red Bull powered Red Bull

Mark Hughes of MotorSport Magazine also weighed in with a piece well worth reading, charting some of Mario Illein’s F1 history and previous involvement with Adrian Newey: The Story behind Red Bull’s 2016 engine

Michael Schmidt of AMuS wrote a rebuttal titled, “No engine development at Red Bull”. However, Schmidt’s article has no outright denial that Red Bull will be using their own power unit next year, he merely criticises the detail of one or two of TJ13 assertions.

The notion that Red Bull Racing could run an ‘unbranded’ power unit in 2016 was not something TJ13 revealed yesterday. Andrew Benson of the BBC speculated as much during the weekend of the Austin GP. But what is an unbranded F1 engine?

Having had limited success in the 1960’s, Porsche withdrew from Formula One but were persuaded by McLaren’s John Barnard to develop an engine which debuted in 1983. Porsche were however nervous about putting their name to an F1 engine, in case it was a failure, so TAG funded the project and retained the naming rights to the engine. Whilst not an ‘unbranded’ engine, this idea is not too dissimilar to Andrew Benson’s proposal that Red Bull will run an engine with no name in 2016 – that engine being a Renault F1 power unit.

We now run into terminology difficulties, because the modern V6 Turbo hybrid F1 engines are no longer really engines. They are in fact power units comprising of ICE (internal combustion engine), Turbo, Control Electronics, Energy Store, MGU-K and MGU-H components. So what was the reality behind the ‘unbranded’ F1 power unit that Red Bull will be running?

Red Bull have previously demonstrated their expertise in KERS technology, as they provided the units which were bolted onto the Renault V8. Further, they developed the original energy store (ES), which was fitted to the Renault power unit inside the RB10. So it’s not out of the question that RBR have built on their previous experience in hybrid know how and invested in the R&D to deliver an MGU-H and Control Electronics unit. This is after all the organisation that crashed tested a new nose design more than 60 times to get it right.

This then leaves the internal combustion engine (ICE), often still referred to as ‘the engine’. TJ13 has been informed that Red Bull Racing will use the lower part of the Renault V6 engine and fit on top a Mario Illien head. This Illien design is already believed to deliver an incremental 40BHP more than the upgraded Renault power unit set to debut in at least one RBR car in Brazil.

So when we consider the proposed RBR 2016 ‘unbranded’ power unit, the question is – how much of it is a Renault?

Answer: Not very much

However, for descriptive purposes it is the lower part of the ICE, or the block, is for now the component that remains as Renault’s contribution. The Renault engine block will form the core of the RBR PU. Additional components developed by RBR include a new cylinder head, turbo, CE, MGU-K and MGU-H units all of which will then require ‘harmonisation.’

This is why Milton Keynes developed ‘building 9’, dug down into the ground two stories and installed a multi million pound AVL rig – a virtual test track used by auto manufacturers to test their engines in situ. A chassis manufacturer does make this kind of mega investment unless they have intentions on a much larger scale. This story was also reported exclusively by TJ13 some months ago.

The AMuS article claiming there is no Red Bull engine programme had just one quote from someone involved in the building 9 RBR developments. This was from Mario Illien himself who said: “I know nothing of a dispute I also have no idea what upgrades Renault has incorporated in its modified engine Also, I can not imagine that a large company like Renault would risk secretly installing [in their engine] my developments.” This is in response to the fact that TJ13 reported there had been some wrangling between Renault and Red Bull over intellectual property.

Clearly, if Red Bull Racing are going to take part of the 2015 Renault power unit and then develop their own PU going forward, serious conversations over intellectual property have most definitely been had.

At times the speed of a denial and the specific aspects of the denial tells a tale in itself. One could surmise from Schmidt’s AMuS response, which is over 95% Schmidt comment and less than 5% quoted sources, that he is peeved at not being the one to reveal the details of Red Bull’s 2016 PU plans.

Further, the TJ13 comments about Intellectual Property clearly raised some concerns in certain quarters, soliciting a remarkably quick response from Illien.

The bottom line is Red Bull are in effect about to become an F1 engine manufacturer, despite having denied this time and time again. It will be fascinating to see how the FIA treat the RBR power unit. Will they get ‘new manufacturer’ allowances as did Honda, or will Red Bull be deemed to be developing out an existing F1 engine which has previously been homologated by the FIA.

33 responses to “Red Bull’s 2016 PU: The pieces of the puzzle

      • Hi guys,
        This is a question for both of you (Matt, and The Judge).
        Why Red Bull doesn’t outsource lower part of the engine to Grainger & Worrall, just as the Mercedes does?
        If they are going to produce themselves everything else, so the block is pretty much the only thing left (crankshafts they are buying from Chambon and pistons are mostly produced by Mahle, connecting rods by Prankl etc.).
        Engine block is more regulated than other components, thus sounds as simplier to design.
        If they have their own block, then the whole PU can be considered as new, like Honda this year, and allowed more freedom for development then if the gamble and use rebranded Renault.
        Cheers from Croatia, and thanks for your time.


        • Red Bull are being pragmatic, they know that time is against them and that’s probably why they courted Mercedes and Ferrari whilst trying to leverage a deal with Renault. It’s all well and good picking up what is yours and running away with it, ie the elements of the ERS that are essentially Red Bull IP but designing everything from scratch is both costly and labour intensive, even if you farm the work out.

          For me this is how it is going to play out, and yes I know the Judge has said that the 11/12 token spend unit to be rolled out in Brazil is Illien’s but I don’t believe it is. The way I understand it is that, that spend on the cylinder head, combustion, injection and turbo side of things is the development that Renault have been working on all season, in parallel to Ilmors design. Both iterations came up showing negligible performance increases in any case.

          Come the end of the season there will be a bipartisan powerunit, each providing the other with the requisite components to facilitate a powerunit in its entirety. Ie Renault provide Red Bull with the block, Ilmor design and manufacture their cylinder head, combustion and injector system whilst providing technical assistance on the turbo for the Red Bull / Ilmor / Infinit unit, whilst Red Bull supply Renault with the ERS components they desire, in much the same way things used to happen with the old V8’s.

          Remember the deal actually suits Renault quite well too, as currently they’re in a situation where their ERS tech isn’t all theirs (from an IP standpoint) IMO…

          • Hi Matt,
            Thanks for the reply.
            So does that means that probably for 2017 Red Bull will have entire ICE designed by themselves, so they will not have obligation to suply their ERS to Renault? I guess one year+ from now should be enough time to design everything else they need to have entirely their own PU?

  1. It has to be a ‘new’ engine as I think the rules only allow a PU manufacturer to homologate 1 engine! It certainly does throw up lots of issues regarding what is a ‘new’ engine and what is not. Reminds me of Triggers broom 🙂

  2. I’ve looked back at what TJ13 has reported about this over the last year and it does seem to fit together like a rather fine Jigsaw Puzzle. Just a question of when will Red Bull confirm or deny it ? Say nothing until the final race of the season to grab the headlines going into the winter ?

  3. Excellent article, well written and supported its findings with facts. I really like the idea of RBR becoming a factory team. This also lends RBR being a prime candidate for the likes of VW if they wanted to gain entry into F1. This is bad news for the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes, since RBR has the resources to make their engine competitive, we already know they can build a demon of a chassis, there is no reason to think they can not do the same with their PU.

    Good luck to them,


    • I don’t understand the approaches to Mercedes and Ferrari over the past few months. Niki said that Red Bull didn’t get back to them. Ferrari said NO to a current 2016 power unit. Was this just a charade or did the two leading teams want to protect IP? Is Red Bull behind schedule and trying to obtain something to get them through next year? Thanks @tj13 and as Fortis says the plot is thick now.

      • They would have preferred another year to work on the design – and maybe not be forced to use any Renault supplied components. However, given Ferrari and Mercedes refusal to supply RB – needs must.

      • I think some of the questions you have asked were covered in another story here, but I can’t remember which article it was.

        Maybe you can find some answers in this Article between TK and Mark Hughes (got it right this time RobDin.😉)

  4. I felt pride when I read the AMUS story. My favourite F1 site really is on the radar now, making people nervous! Keep it up!

  5. So reading between the lines or did someone already say ….that the real reason Brixworth and the Scuderia said no was because they didn’t want to supply just a block for development? And, if they did just want the block then surely they could have had cosworth build that months ago??? Maybe I’m way off.

  6. Your honour, it really looks like you nailed it! Congratulations! 🙂 My first question is : Why did RBR try to get other engines if they were preparing building 9 with AVL test cells worth millions many months ago? Mario Illien and the famous building would have been both pretty much redundant in case they received other engines, which presumably would not need or allow in-house development. I would also have a little doubt about the 40 BHP Mario has found. That really looks like a very optimistic figure, given the rule restrictions. I don’t get how Carlos Ghosn first says : I don’t give my engines! and later on says : I give you my engines without my logo!

  7. “…TJ13 captured the eyes of many in Formula One yesterday with our revelation…”

    It’s cool and impressive to have these kinds of scoops, I really believe so. But all those sentences like the one I quoted sound perhaps a bit more cocky than you guys mean it. The articles could do without all those “as TJ13 exclusively reported”, “yesterday TJ13 brought you”, et cetera et cetera. It only gets in the way of the excellent service you provide.

    Keep up the good work, though. If this RB thing turns out to be true you have yet again done some impressive work.

  8. That’s a fine piece of nailing all the background together, Judge.
    Love the lateral thinking that’s been applied here. More then one way to skin a cat…..

  9. We have always used Williams and Lotus as a benchmark for how a smaller team can take the fight to the major players of the sport by designing a chassis and bolting in a stock f1 engine…any engine will do, and I have to admit I really didn’t see any other way of approaching the front…until now. These new power units have opened up some very interesting possibilities given the modular nature of the beasts. An internal combustion engine is pretty easy to understand and design given modern methods of casting and milling,the real skill in this sport is the integrated systems that bolt to these babies and Honda have found that this is harder than it looks. Redbull have had years of mashing up different units and making them talk to each really is a brave new world, my love of cogs and gears has been overshadowed by the networking age and I hope this is the shot in the arm the sport needs…I just hope my own stable will continue to improve. Great scoop Judge.

  10. what to believe? i desperately want to see this whole scenario play out as suggested here but something seems to say to me that the absence of any other mainstream source coming to the same conclusion throws a cloak of darkness over the whole issue. to keep such a project under wraps sufficiently calls for ‘intelligence agency’ expertise and i am surprised that, if it is all true, that details no matter how small have not actually appeared anywhere!
    surely there is more to this than we are being told? there is nothing more that i would like to see than red bull doing their thing in such a way as to take on the establishment and be able to threaten the mercedes juggernaut for supremacy.

      • @ fortis…thanks for the response. i read that something was going to be announced 6th/7th but time has passed and there has been zip. now, much and all as i want to believe this story as it would very much make my day, i’m afraid that i will now move on and treat this as a ‘non event’ and the product of someone’s rather delusional mental state.. if there was to be any substance to it then it would be a ‘break out’ across the F1 universe as it is one on the biggest stories of the entire season. thanks for the temporary boost to my flagging interest in F1. merci mon ami.

  11. WOW!! Very interesting development and a rather high probability this is true given what has happened in F1 over the last few months.

    So Renault are about to agree to allow Red Bull to rebrand their engine as a Nissan or Infiniti or something else.

    The pressing question is will Red Bull be allowed to develop their engine on a separate design path then Renault? Its hard to imagine Red Bull isn’t asking for this especially given their investment in energy recovery systems and their partnership with Ilmore.

    But why would Renault allow for this? I mean its the kind of road they’ve been down before with Red Bull taking credit away from their engine supplier.

    You’ve got to think if Renault is agreeing to this there must be a whole lot of incentive. Perhaps Renault is effectively agreeing to be, by proxy, the supplier of a lower cost engine for F1. Doing so perhaps gives greater incentive to Bernie to open the coffers to Renault’s justified monetary demands regarding their historical status in F1.

    You can almost feel all the other manufacturers doing the math… hmmmm do we allow Renault this historical privilege and stand aside for this Red Bull engine development nonsense or do we open the door to Red Bull developing a dual turbo 2.2 litre V6 with Ilmore?

    In so many ways this makes sense. Renault hands over a PU, Red Bull promises to develop it and offer it as an alternative engine to teams that piss off everyone and need an engine.

    There’s a reason Red Bull always gets what it wants and its not necessarily because they’re the biggest cry babies, it might just be they’ve got everyone’s number in F1!

  12. “Red Bull have previously demonstrated their expertise in KERS technology, as they provided the units which were bolted onto the Renault V8”
    Not true. 2009 Kers was a Renault in Esntone-developped Kers. And all teams continued to use Renault/Magneti Marelli MGUK till 2013. RBR only developped its own ES and the software…

  13. If the Renault-derived PU used in 2016 Red Bulls will not be branded as Renault, then where does that leave Renault? Is Renault going to continue in the sport even though there are no prime teams will be using its engine, will it quit, or will it setup a Renault works team?

  14. Building 9, well, it does do manufactoring, but they make bikes there. The firm trek bicycle has errected that building. You can on wednesdays visit the plant.

    • Interesting article. Ferrari are trying really hard to be the “standard” manufacturer of F1 engines. I think this pretty much confirms the original article by the judge too.


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