The FIA mandated a power unit freeze from the end of 2021 until the new units are developed for the start of 2026. This prevented the manufacturers from delivering performance related development but exempted upgrades intended to improve reliability.
Ferrari opted to select a power unit design which had an incremental potential from its starting point, knowing the fragilities could be ironed out in the intervening seasons.
F1 power units improve despite freeze
The maximum potential power cannot be improved under the freeze, but it meant teams could run their units at reduced power to increase its longevity. In the meantime they would make ongoing improvements to the reliability then allowing them to run the PU’s at higher performance setting knowing they were less likely to break down.
Honda have delivered a power unit to Red Bull for 2023 which thus far has not suffered reliability problems yet the boss of the Japanese supplier, Koji Watanabe, believes the Honda unit can be improved further for next season.
This indicates Red Bull have not been running their power units at full tilt all season and given their pace advantage this has not been restive for the F1 world champions.
While the ultimate power available to the driver can be turned up and down, come qualifying the teams must set the upper limit before the session which then remains for the Grand Prix.
RBR just 2 poles in 6 races
Red Bull have not been dominant in qualifying this season, preferring to set up their cars to be kinder on the tyres during the race and despite winning 15 of the 16 rounds to date the RB19 has been on pole position on just 11 of this occasions.
The first non-Red Bull pole position was at round four in Azerbaijan, but Verstappen had problems in qualifying which had a bearing on the outcome.
More interesting is Since Hungary, Red Bull have only won pole at 2 of the 6 Grand Prix events which may indicate their power units are being run on a lower setting due to concerns over reliability along with performance degradation.
Honda boss Watanabe recognises the other power unit manufacturers have made improvements.
Ferrari improve their PU
“At Ferrari, for example, they have developed the engine considerably and Mercedes’ ERS system is also very strong.
“We will also improve our engine for next year in terms of its longevity. So there is definitely something in the pipeline.”
The relationship between Red Bull and Honda is undergoing a transformation and both parties are set to become rival manufacturers in 2026.
Red Bull opted to partner with Ford to develop a power unit for the new regulations while Honda who initially indicated they would withdraw from F1 recently announced they will now supply the Aston Martin team.
Red Bull/Honda secrecy creeps in
This means the previous collaboration between Red Bull and Honda has become more secretive as Watanabe confirms.
“Red Bull doesn’t tell us anything about their engine, and we don’t say anything to them about our development,” he said.
“So there is already a kind of information war going on at the moment. At Red Bull, they do have some knowledge about our current engine but, ultimately, we are responsible for the development and the whole process.
“Most of the knowledge is with us.”
Red Bull frustrated with Honda
Of course Honda is currently benefitting from the genius F1 car design of Adrian Newey and will be credited with F1 championship status as the power unit supplier each year when Red Bull wins.
“Until 2025, I hope Red Bull wins everything. And from 2026, we will hopefully be their biggest competitor. Building a completely new engine is a huge challenge, but our goal is also to win a championship in the next era,” Watanabe reveals.
Red Bull were frustrated with Honda’s indecision over the future and so looked to Fords to become their global partner. However Christian Horner revealed when Honda announced their future relationship with Aston Martin, that he and the team would have preferred to stay with th Japanese supplier.
Honda leaving RBR “no regrets”
“I don’t regret that decision, which we made in 2020 initially,” confirmed Wannabe.
“At that time, in my opinion, it was the right choice. Honda’s management has made climate neutrality a key pillar. For example, to develop the battery of an electric car, we needed top engineers, who at that time were mostly engaged in Formula 1 activities.
“Those have been brought back and a lot of work has been done for the future. The engine regulations from 2026 onwards in the sport will help us stay active here, as the engines will be much more sustainable and about 50 per cent of the power will be electric.”
Aston Martin questions asked
Yet as Mercedes are proving, having one of the best power units in F1 does not necessarily translate into a championship challenge.
Aston Martin started the 2023 season as the second best team, but have slipped dramatically down the pecking order since the middle off the European season.
The team have been unable to develop their car as well as the rest of the front runners and have seen McLaren overtake them as the best of the rest.
Mercedes and Ferrari are also consistently ahead of the Silverstone team as Fernando Alonso battles each week to score the lower order points.
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