Formula 1 Power Unit deal appears done – As late as last evening, there were rumours in the Italian media that Honda were attempting a last-minute negotiation to get Japanese F2 driver, Yuki Tsunoda, into the Red Bull owned Alpha Tauri team for 2021.
Given Honda’s announcement to withdraw from F1 at the end of next season, this story appears to have been untrue.
Yet murmurs of Tsunoda driving for Red Bull Honda have been circulating the paddock for some weeks; and where there’s smoke, something is usually smouldering away underneath.
Red Bull have some tough decisions for 2021, which in all likelihood will see Kvyat dropped and possibly an experienced driver brought in to assist Max in the senior team. So Honda pushing for Tsunoda was never really on the cards, given Albon and Gasly would make a great pairing for Alpha Tauri.
However, it would be amazing were Honda to spit their collective Japanese dummy’s out over Red Bull refusing to recruit ‘their man’ and so decide to pull their F1 power unit programme.
Honda claim their R&D focus is gravitating away from the combustion engine and towards other power unit designs for the future. With countries like the UK mooting to ban all new combustion engine car sales 10 years from now, the race is really on for the global road car manufacturers to get their electric programmes into volume production.
The clue to where the Red Bull F1 family will find their post Honda power unit supply came a few weeks back when Renault made certain surprise announcements.
The Renault Sport F1 management has to date been structured as follows: Cyril Abiteboul (Managing Director), Martin Budkoski (Executive Director), Pat Fry (Chassis Technical Director – based in Enstone) and Remi Taffin (Engine
Technical Director- based in Viry France).
On September 4th 2020, Renault announced Cyril Abiteboul would be taking on additional responsibility to develop the French manufacturers Alpine brand. At present, this is merely one vehicle, the A110 and variant A110S.
Abiteboul insisted this would be in addition to his F1 responsibilities and in no way was he leaving his F1 duties.
2 days later, Renault announced that their Enstone based team would be renamed Alpine F1 from 2021. The livery would no longer be the Renault yellow colours and the Alpine F1 car would be powered by a separately branded
Renault E-TECH hybrid engine.
Then on September 9th, Cyril Abiteboul gave an interesting interview where he mused that despite Renault only powering the Alpine F1 team in 2021, the long term hope for the engine supplier was to develop ‘partners’ not ‘customers’. “A customer brings you nothing. A partner maybe can bring you some value, the value being in particular that it can help you in reaching a sporting objective or business objective,” Abiteboul suggested.
He then pressed the difference between the two further.
“We know that the [financial] transaction is regulated anyway, so it’s mainly from a sporting and technical perspective that we would look at the opportunity.”
When asked whether Red Bull Racing and Alpha Tauri might take Renault powered engines should Honda leave the sport after 2021, Abiteboul was dismissive. Speaking of the opportunities for the power unit division of Renault, “If there is a strong partnership opportunity we will do it. I have doubt that it could be with Red Bull.”
Red Bull Racing previously complained during the early years of the hybrid era, that they didn’t have enough input into the development of the power unit.
This emphasis on ‘partnership’ may well have been an ill-disguised attempt to woo back the Milton Keynes based outfit. ‘Things will be different this time Christian, we promise…’
Of course Christian Horner and Cyril Abeteboul have some history. The relationship between the two World Championship partners descended into anarchy and tit for tat public abuse during the early years of the F1 hybrid era.
The Renault power unit was both unreliable and lacking in power, and this regular saw recriminations following race weekends with disappointing track performances.
During the summer of 2018, RBR decided to ditch Renault power for 2019 but a week or so later, Renault recruited the Milton Keynes team’s lead driver – Daniel Ricciardo – for the same season.
At a press conference following the announcements, Abiteboul quipped to Horner, “you’ll need an engine and now a
driver for 2019”.
Horner’s response was “Have you got any money to spend on your engine now you’ve spent it all on your driver?” This was a reference to accusations the French outfit didn’t have the money to develop their F1 PU unlike Mercedes and Ferrari.
The last time Red Bull Racing found themselves without an engine supplier, both Mercedes and Ferrari refused to offer Christian’s outfit their power units. At that time, the FIA changed the regulations to force F1 engine suppliers to provide
engines and eliminate the spectre of a team with no power unit.
However, the regulations state that the F1 engine supplier to be forced to provide a team without a power unit would be the one who supplies the least other customers for that season. There is no reason why Ferrari or Mercedes will volunteer to supply RBR with a power unit for 2022, so clearly Renault and RBR are set to resume their ‘partnership’.
Rumours that RBR will buy Honda’s UK F1 power unit facility and with another partner attempt to run the engine as a ‘white label’ appear far-fetched. The cost of running an F1 power unit supply operation is eye watering and are in the gift only of global engine manufacturers.
Yes, this kind of approach was seen in years gone by with ‘Tag Heuer’ but in reality, the engine was still produced by Renault. The high degree of complexity of the various components of the V6 F1 hybrid power units and their integration
means it is unlikely RBR will follow this path.
TJ13, however, has learned that Cyril Abeteboul’s new role – effectively as team principal for Alpine F1, will see his management input into Viry changed slightly. He will no longer be the Renault Sport F1 Managing Director. This removes the necessity for RBR representatives to deal with him over the power unit supply.
Remi Taffin will be the point of contact for Christian, Adrian and the other senior RBR management. Further, they will be offered a new ‘partnership’ input opportunity, which will see a divergence in certain aspects of the power unit meaning it will differ from the one supplied to Alpine F1.
RBR have an in house highly complex and expensive rolling road. They will combine their expertise and data from this to Viry who will ensure a more co-operative development moving forward than during their previous relationship.
So, unfortunately for those Netflix fans of ‘Race to Survive’, Christian and Cyril will not be resuming their fractious relationship as was in its previous incarnation.
Though as competitor team principals the fireworks are likely to still be lit.