The irony of Red Bull’s new Tag Heuer engine brand

tag heuer

The pain and the embarrassment McLaren have endured during this year, is all because Ron Dennis has a vision. The British entrepreneur believes that to win another Formula One title, his team must have a ‘works’ power unit arrangement if they are to cease being ‘also rans’.

Of course, McLaren had this kind of relationship with Mercedes prior to Daimler Benz buying the Brackley based team from Ross Brawn.

This was the beginning of the end for the Mercedes-McLaren partnership that began back in 1995.

Ron Dennis took control of the Woking F1 team some 12 years after Bruce McLaren’s death in 1970. Despite the team having won the F1 1974 constructors’ title with the famous Ford DFV 3.0l V8 engine, results had deteriorated and McLaren sponsor Philip Morris persuaded Teddy Mayer – who had picked up the reigns following Bruce’s death – to merge the team with Dennis’ ‘Project Four’ Formula 2 team. Dennis had designer John Barnard on board.

Barnard was keen to try out his design for an all carbon fibre chassis in Formula One and Dennis set about getting a ‘works’ engine built by Porsche to compliment Barnard’s design. It debuted at the end of the 1983 season. It was a ‘white label’ engine, which meant Porsche designed and built it, but TAG paid for its development.

The Barnard design and the TAG turbo engine were a match made in heaven, winning the 1984 and 1985 constructors’ championships and coming second in 1986 and 1987. McLaren’s Niki Lauda was drivers’ champion for the final time in 1984 and then Alain Prost secured the next two championships with TAG power for McLaren.

Ron Dennis realised to sustain success he needed a mainstream auto manufacturer to power the McLaren cars and landed a deal with Honda, which began in 1988. McLaren Honda swept all before them in the constructors’ race for the next four years at the same time winning Senna three driver titles and Prost one.

By the end of 1993, Ron Dennis had steered McLaren to 6 F1 constructors’ titles and the runner up spot in the other four years. McLaren drivers’ had won seven of the ten drivers titles, but this golden era was about to end.

Honda withdrew from Formula One and in 1995 Dennis secured another ‘works’ team engine supply arrangement with Mercedes. Yet over 20 years of their F1 partnership, Mercedes-McLaren’s results were hardly stellar. They won just one constructor’ and three driver titles and clearly since going it alone, Mercedes have reaped the rewards winning back-to-back F1 championships and in the W06 produced the most dominant car the F1 world has ever seen.

Dennis knew the writing was on the wall once Mercedes bought the Brawn team, though joint ventures and engine contracts restrained McLaren from breaking free from their F1 engine supplier. Driven by a desire to bring back glory to Woking, Dennis knew this would only be possible if he could manoeuvre McLaren back into a ‘works’ power unit relationship – and Honda said yes.

The success of new kids on the block, Red Bull Racing, with their billionaire owner has clearly irked Ron Dennis given the years he has fought to get McLaren back to the pinnacle of Formula One. Dennis revealed in Abu Dhabi that at the recent F1 commission he had told Christian Horner to “suck it up” as he was challenged over his move to block Red Bull from receiving the same Honda power unit as McLaren.

Dennis explained: “Some of what Christian has been experiencing at the moment is self-inflicted. He’s obviously been lobbying hard, as you would expect him to, along different paths to achieve a better position for him and the Red Bull team.

“I understand that, but the real issue is what the teams have to do to make the future of grand prix racing better and we all have, as do the manufacturers in F1, a very strong desire to try and address some of the issues.”

However, Dennis claimed Horner had supported him at the very same meeting when he challenged the commercial rights holder – CVC Capital – on the future direction of Formula One.

“Everybody has to come to the party and that particular comment about Donald Mackenzie at CVC…after that comment, [Horner] was very complimentary about what I said and even how I said it.

“Everybody’s got to come to the party. They make a great deal of money from motor racing and they need to put a bit more back into the sport at critical moments – and the critical moment is keeping Renault and keeping the Red Bull team supplied with engines. It’s as simple as that.

“Without question, everybody was complimentary about my contribution to that meeting. So I don’t feel at all bad about it.”

The ‘budget’ engine proposal was always a red herring as far as Red Bull are concerned, as TJ13 has revealed they have been developing F1 power unit technologies this year in their dedicated building 9 in Milton Keynes. Red Bull are set to announce they will receive an unbranded ICE from Renault for 2016, which Horner claims will be developed throughout the year – most probably in association with Mario Illien. Red Bull racing will develop the other parts of the modern F1 power unit either in house or through sub-contractors.

When asked by the BBC what the engine will be called, Horner cryptically responded: “Wait and see what it is called. “It will be something quite good. I don’t think Ron Dennis will be very happy, but he hasn’t been very happy recently.”

The old adage he who laughs last, laughs longest may be something in which Christian Horner will delight, following the lambasting he received recently from Ron Dennis. Particularly given that the bitter irony of a Tag Heuer badged engine in the Adrian Newey RB12, will not be lost on the McLaren supremo.

The deal is scheduled for announcement on Thursday/Friday this week.

62 responses to “The irony of Red Bull’s new Tag Heuer engine brand

    • I saw the Nissan story but it appears to be speculation no? I’m reading things like it “could be” or “will most likely be”. For me this story makes sense. I know Tag Heuer is moving from McLaren to Red Bull (bye bye Casio) and from a marketing point of view for Tag it makes sense for them to brand the power unit TAG again…

      • I think it is speculation generated by Horner and him saying Ron wont like it. It does make sense that Ron would not like Tag but Renault and Nissan Have close ties to Renault (Renault own 43% of Nissan shares and Nissan 15% of Renault, plus Nissan own Infinity) . Then again would a car manufacturer want to risk the pasting Red Bull have given Renault? The Tag name was used as a label for the Porsche developed engine and who own Porsche? VW!!!! So I would doubt Renault ‘helping’ VW for 2017.
        The article does suggests Red Bull developing peripherals to the engine which does make sense with Red Bulls ‘secret building’ and also to a future takeover with VW…
        All very interesting…

  1. So tag heur sponsors McLaren engines. Then only McLaren. And then they jump to RedBull who are rumoured to get a ‘blanc’ engine.

    And instead of goin’ bereserk the internet just reports that a sponsor changed teams.

    This site, along with JoeblogsF1 are the first ones to discuss this option – or I am not paying enough attention.

  2. I’d been under the impression that Tag and tag heuer are two completely different firms with different ownership.

    Techniques d’avant grade who were involved with mclaren and paid for the porsche engine. The other firm who make overpriced watches…

  3. Yep, if the new RBR PU gets tagged TAG then I reckon it will twist Ron’s knickers good and proper 🙂

    Even better will be if the first products emerging from the Building #9 skunkworks are reliable and thereabouts on power / driveability.

    RBR are taking a huge risk on all this if its true. An outcome along the lines of Honda’s annus horribilus would be catastrophic (and amusing).

    Even the idea of letting STR head off to Ferrari, halving the number PUs in action, is a crazy bold manoeuvre.

    The RBR / Renault spat has provided a lot of off-track interest this year. RBR TAG will do likewise regardless of which way it goes – a good thing if the on-track action is as dire as it was this year.

    • Irrespective of what happens with RBR-, I’m glad they are trying something different.

      What’s the saying? “The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same things and expecting a different result.”

      At least if they really are developing their own engine their destiny is in their own hands – whether it be good or bad who knows.

      Given the F1 engine regs and the reluctance of Mercedes and Ferrari to supply their biggest competitor with an engine, I don’t think there is any other way for RB to return to the front than developing their own engine.

      • Well said.

        I also feel the way RBR was apparently shopping around for another engine was a ruse to keep everyone well off the track they were building their own engine.

        If they have been investing in their own engine program for the last 18 months or so, as has been suggested elsewhere, then there is no way they would even consider supply from some else.

        You have your destiny in your own hands RBR.

  4. Fine idea being having a works engine but you still need to choose wisely. The article skips over 1994 when McLaren had the “works” Peugeot engine for a single year. Not one of Ron’s better ideas.

    • It didn’t ‘skip over it’ to omit vital information. It wasn’t relevant. The article makes your point most clearly given the failure to deliver over 20 years of the ‘works’ engine arrangement between McLaren-Mercedes.

      • Your article makes a very good point but mine is not quite the same one. My summary your article is – TAG Porsche was a good choice of partner and they reaped rewards, Honda was another good choice and they again reaped rewards, Mercedes may have been a good choice but McLaren didn’t maximise the opportunity compared to what Mercedes achieved after they split. My point was that, in amongst all of that, they also chose Peugeot. It was clearly a bad choice and Ron seems to have recognised that quickly and dumped them ASAP for a better one. The relevance is that, on evidence so far, Honda looks more like a Peugeot than a Mercedes but Ron either doesn’t see it or does but can’t find an alternative this time around.

      • Ron Dennis plan to turn McLaren into more than a race team is probably one of the reasons as to why McLaren haven’t done as well they could have over the last 20 years, plus Ross Brawn and co at Ferrari did a better job of pushing everything to the limit and beyond (Ferrari International Assistance). Time will tell if Ron’s refocus on the race team and sticking with Honda will pay off. He may yet have the last laugh or find himself turfed out of McLaren. I have a sneaky feeling if Honda sort out of the PU and if McLaren get the Chassis design right, Alonso will find himself beaten to the drivers title by Vandoorne (I can’t see Button at McLaren in 2017 with Vandoorne banging on the garage door), causing the mother of all Alonso strops and his exit to probably try and win Le Mans.

        At least we’ll have an interesting battle between Renault, Red Bull and McLaren-Honda to watch unfold next season. With Mercedes probably being nimble enough to keep Ferrari behind them with the usual Lewis and Nico dramas of squabbling over the lead. Unless the curse of Paddy Lowe strikes the chassis design.

        • Nice one – taperoo2k, you Made me smile a lot with the thought…. “at least we’ll have an interesting battle between Renault, Red Bull and McLaren-Honda to watch”. The politics and drama associated with that scrap will be far more entertaining than watching Ferrari trail around behind Mercedes again… claiming they’ve improved by another second a lap.

          • Guess you could say that is the battle to become the 3rd fastest PU in F1. Maybe Bernie should bring medals in for that.

            The thing about that scrap is that it might push one of them into unlocking the full potential of the PU and thus being able to challenge Mercedes at some point. But in the meantime, I look forward to Lewis and Nico having a rap battle to decide who gets first dibs on the pit stops.

  5. As building 9 keeps being mentioned, I decided to have a little investigation.

    As most of you are probably aware, in the UK any building or significant modifications to a building have to be approved by the local authority. Any planning submissions must be made available to the public for inspection.

    Milton Keynes council have an online facility with a very efficient search facility that allows quick access to any planning applications.

    A quick search reveals that the last planning application by Red Bull in the Milton Keynes area was in May 2012, with a further amendment in Feb 2013 that reduced the size of the new Building 7.

    The proposed plans (prior to the ammendment) may be viewed here .

    Final planning consent was approved in Nov 2014.

    This, of course, does not prove that Building 9 does not exist – just that, if it does, it is not situated near RBR in Milton Keynes.

        • Red Bull already use the old Sansetsu Building but there have not been any applications for it, so it can only be used in its’ current approved state.

          When a transmission test facility was built previously (2006) an application was submitted, since then planning is much more rigorous so an engine development facility would definitely require at least building regulation approval.

          In the current buildings trivial changes such as ‘change of room use’ to a First Aid Post or replacement of fire doors are listed as approved and completed!

          The next building along was used by a subsidiary of Sansetsu, as of Jun 2015 it was empty, but also has not had any applications.

          RBR may intend to acquire/use this building but it certainly is not, or anyway close to being an established facility.

      • I know the search facility very good, so I can say quite emphatically, No it is not –

        1. none of the adjacent buildings are owned by Red Bull or Jaguar Racing.
        2. As it is claimed to be a new build, then a planning application would have to have been submitted.
        3. Only one other planning application has been made in the area (Oct 2013) which is for change of use of a warehouse for ‘ High quality biological sample handling, storage, processing and analytical services.’
        4. There is absolutely no possibility that a new build or change of use could have been enacted without any evidence in the planning register.

        • Thanks for taking the time to do the searches. It is the only evidence of anything I have seen presented during the whole PU debacle.

      • My apologies Your Honour – I focused too much on the misnomer ‘Building 9’ !

        The Sansetsu building, that is currently referred to as Red Bull Racing Building 8, has had a planning application by the owners ‘Ridge and Partners’ approved in Jan 2015 for various changes including creation of a basement under the current structure. As part of that application a noise survey was provided by Red Bull Racing .

        This is obviously what you are referring to as the (now no so secret) Building 9!

        The cross section plans are .

        Intriguing that RBR requested this facility even before they had tested the 2015 engine!

        Once again my apologies.

          • Named, perhaps, after the movie “Plan 9 From Outer Space”? As we said in the service, “Confusion to the enemy!”

          • You see Judge, the Proper F1 Fans can be the maniacs in the same way the teams are ! They/We want to know everything about everything what’s goin on. For me personally all those politic games behind the scenes are FAR more interesting than actual on-track happenings, well, if on-track is spiced up by likes of ToroRosso, Ricciardo, Sainz, Peres, Verstappen – even better !

        • fantastic job Engineer ! I was trying to understand/find it but not in the way You did.Excellent job ! Now we KNOW. B8 is on the ground, B9 appears to be under B8. Ingenious indeed ! P.S. They are taking over the whole business site bit by bit, aren’t they ?

          • They also rent a warehouse at the T-Systems premises across the road. This would be more strorage/general ‘stuff’ – maybe things they had to relocate for creating Building 9???

            T-Systems is the business customer unit of Deutsche Telekom – which includes what was once VW’s IT dept (“gedas”) – who used to sponsor SauberBMW.

            Before everyone gets too excited, I can assure you 100% that they are not involved in Red Bull Racing’s day-to-day business (so not some Trojan horse to VW). Simply they had space no longer needed, and RBR needed some space.

          • well, my assumings might not be too accurate, not the easiest thing for Ireland based buck to find out what’s going on in the UK. Nevertheless i find things nicely transparent in the UK as Engineer proved just above. You CAN’T hide a needle in UK ! 🙂

          • The warehouse comes up on the register as ‘Former British Bakeries Ltd Sherbourne Drive’ and has had planning applications by Red Bull Racing. The adjacent property comes up as ‘Hutchinson 3g Uk Ltd Sherbourne Drive’. The property on the opposite side of Bradbourne Drive comes up as ‘Red Bull Racing 21 Bradbourne Drive’ and has also had planning applications by RBR. They were all easy to identify.

            The application for ‘Building 8’ was in the name of the site owner ‘Ridge and Partners’ and was described as ‘alterations’, and consequently did not appear to require extensive planning consent – approval was granted in less than two months. It did not show any association to Red Bull until I trawled through the documents – noise assessment was a slight give-away!

            I suspect the ‘basement’ option was to expedite planning approval (sound insulation was a bonus).
            Could development by a third party be an attempt to obfuscate capital outlay? – or are there some astute businessmen rubbing their hands!

        • & hat off to Horner ! Obviously once Renault started sniffing around for a handy team, Horner immediately sensed this will be needed assuming the love will be over one day sooner rather than later and knowing too well their own doings and F1Piranja pond manners in general he felt they NEED some option they would have control of. All the recent hustle maybe was to avoid all that new constructor homologation thing and find some option for homologated block they could develop as they please or get new constructor engaged for the affair who would be willing to take a flag(& majority of spending burden)

          • Totally agree.

            Matt Sommers and John Wilde have suggested RBR have been working on this engine since June 2014

            Does everyone remember Dr. Marko stating RBR had given an ultimatum to Renault until The Austrian GP (which is around June in 2014) to respond and show RBR they were serious about this engine and invest in it? Dr. Marko on the Austrian GP weekend didn’t not make an announcement about this as Renault had not responded to RBR’s request.

            There is a youtube video with Martin Brundle interviewing Marko that Austrian GP weekend, asking this same question.

            So what did RBR do? they worked away on this engine for the last 18 or so months, investing and improving it when Renault didn’t want to.

            Si this is RBR’s response.

            I feel the Bernie has been getting RBR to do all the dirty PR work for him by highlighting to all how selfish the manufactures are and thus causing change to engine supply rules.

            I’m looking forward to this!!!

        • sorry to be bringer of bad news but links are 404d ; )

          I tried searching but couldn’t get a thing, could you post links up again?

          • Hmmm – links didn’t work when I directly accessed and force a refresh to clear cache.
            When I went in via the search again, exact same link worked following refresh! Documents are gov copyright so don’t want to post elsewhere – sorry.
            ps. May new search refreshed the links.

        • The application documents mention 15 staff, 74 extra car parks, only developing the last 3 bays of the warehouse. Huge area left for future. 24/7 noise assumption to be 5dB below existing noise levels. Ramp down to basement.

          • Presumably a wind tunnel isn’t so noisy and can go above ground. Plenty of space. Do they need plannign permission to refit the interior? Plans cover new facade for the whole building.


            2.2 Schedule of Areas
            Existing Sansetsu Gross Internal Area: 6804 m2
            Of which this project is concerned with: 1133 m2 (the rear 3 bays)
            Area of new basement: 492 m2
            Area of new first floor: 235 m2
            Additional floor area: 727 m2
            Total GIA of proposals: 1860 m2
            New Sansetsu Gross Internal Area: 7531 m

          • blouis79 heaps of room for future development, the way RBR is going they will buying out Trek building.


            Given all this stupendous spending by RBR, I don’t believe all that has been written about Illmor developing Renault engine at Viry only and Illmor not working at this new installations at RBR.

            I know this is for future development of engine for 17 etc with who ever supplies them , but I don’t buy RBR going ahead with this project which could implode on them and take down the whole RBR/RBT group if Mario is not overseeing this as most likely the original road map was based around him.

            If he is there and involved with hands on basis, RBR are better off shutting this project or future engine projects down now.

  6. James Allen told me the Renault unit is a mid term option for 2016 and red bull will be running Honda PU in 2017.

  7. TAG and TAG Heuer are 2 different companies. TAG Heuer are now owned by LVMH as part of their portfolio of luxury brands. TAG funded McLaren and purchased Heuer off owner Jack Heuer, and funded the PORSCHE built engine (there was no Heuer branding on the engine it was TAG Made by PORSCHE), and remained shareholders till today but sold the renamed TAG Heuer watch business years ago having used the brand as sponsor on McLaren till recently.

    • Hi Peter, I was just going to mention this. I like to keep the facts straight, so naming the TAG Porsche TAG Heuer hurts my eye…

  8. There is a saying in politics that; you could not make it up. But this story seems just that.
    The 84 Porsche engine was sponsored by Mansoor Oijeh’s Techniques D’Avant Garde (TAG) group who specialised in ceramic turbo technology.
    Tag Heuer is now owned by LVMH. The recent quality of their time pieces would preclude any technoly investment in Power Units.
    Oijeh might pull his investment from McLaren but that’s a far cry from badging another PU.

  9. The latest speculation trend is stickers naming/renaming on valve covers but this time undertaking development of the engine by the sticker fixer has been added.
    For this new trend to materialise the RBR/Bernie/Totd trio will have to try undertake/overcome a second hurdle after their failed first one “the unicorn fart powered engine”.
    This because the regulations as are Renault can use Ilmor but the red bullies cannot unless the FIA rewrites the homologation rules. There is no scope within F1’s regulations for the red bullies to forge its own development path on PU’s, as has and is being rumoured. Every engine manufacturer can homologate one type of engine, which rules-out a team being given freedom to modify a current PU. The governing body has also made clear that simply naming/renaming an engine does not get around the rules, as only a new PU design will be considered acceptable. The regulations are very clear in what they say “it is one specification per manufacturer”.

    • This year we had 8 different specifications running one race, Austin I think. I understood the rule was 1 spec per manufacturer, under seal, at a time, but then Mercedes started using a different specification from the customers.
      For $25 million a season (or whatever) for PUs you should get the best they have. Mercedes or whoever, shouldn’t be allowed to release a new specification until they can supply their paying customers with the same equipment.

      • Mercedes say Brixworth is a separate entity financially. Brackley pay them for power units and pay a premium for the priority ‘customer’ service.

        • I see. The rules do say that an engine manufacturer can only have one engine under FIA seal (at least the way I read it), so I am confused by them having several specs in play at once, regardless of financial relationships. I thought 2016 might be different, with development loopholes closed, but it seems Toro Rosso may be using a 2015 PU.
          It would be strange for F1 to actually give the independents a fair chance by ensuring engine parity with their factory team. Lord help us if that were to happen, racing might break out and take our minds of the bullshit.

        • Bernie wanted to do exactly what you say Brixworth and Brackley are doing, he wanted to buy Renault engines and than sell them to the red bullies.

  10. Don’t McLaren make super fast (and expensive) sports cars for the road? Why could they not have used their own people to build the engine for the Formula 1 race team? Had to be better than the Honda leaf blower they have now. Perhaps they too have a “Building 9” somewhere. 🙂

  11. I hope RBR gets it right. They seem to have an absurdly good aero/chassis and no problems throwing money around like crazy.

    • Well, someone needs to take the fight to Mercedes and I an not convinced that Ferrari have what it takes to do more than pick up the odd win when Mercedes falter. Trouble is, even RB probably will need some time to get their TAG-Illien-Nissan-Honda-Infinity-Renault or whatever it is called into race winning shape but I think they are the only team that might do it.

  12. TJ13.

    Considering RBR are burning all this money on their own engine, whats the likelihood of them going for the alternate V6 twin turbo if it gets through for 2017?

    Surely RBR are going to be sticking with their own engine for more than just a year?

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