In an announcement that confirms rumors from August of 2020, Honda affirmed their withdrawal from Formula 1 as an engine supplier at the end of 2021. This has left Red Bull and AlphaTauri seeking a replacement supplier.
It’s a reflection of the current world automotive status. Honda says it’s “a once-in-one-hundred-years period of great transformation” and that they’ll leave having been “able to attain its goal of earning victories.” With the current F1 regulations, of the three remaining suppliers being Mercedes, Ferrari, and Renault, it’s the latter that now must step up for 2022 as they currently supply fewer teams than Ferrari and Mercedes. However, it may yet see either of the other two if Red Bull and AlphaTauri can provide a convincing enough business case.
Given that both teams are signatories to an agreement that sees them both in F1 until the end of 2025, it’s a reasonable guess that a four-year supply agreement would be a minimum. However, Honda came back to f1 as a supplier in 2015 for McLaren, a joining that proved factious and resulted in Honda moving to Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri) and Red Bull in 2018 and 2019.
“Honda will work together with Red Bull Racing and Scuderia AlphaTauri to continue competing with its utmost effort and strive for more victories all the way to the end of the 2021 season.” the Japanese company added in a statement. Christian Horner, the current boss of Red Bull, said: “We look forward to embarking on a new era of innovation, development and success. As a group, we will now take the time afforded to us to further evaluate and find the most competitive power unit solution for 2022 and beyond.”
In the short time, Honda has provided engines to the two teams, five victories have been the result so far.
Renault, though, was a previous supplier to Red Bull. That relationship did not end well so for either to be effectively forced to pair up again would not be a welcome result. However, a longer shot option is Red Bull, in the light of engine regulations changing for 2026, gritting their teeth and working with Renault until that door opens and potentially allows the teams to develop and use their own engines.
A further complication in one context is Max Verstappen. The outspoken Dutchman was openly critical of Renault during their tenure. It’s rumored that his contract may allow a search for a new team in what could be considered a “major change” and this may very well come under that sort of definition.
Cyril Abiteboul, Renault’s team principal, observed that Red Bull had not yet made contact but that the French outfit was ready to supply engines if required. “Being in the sport we are well aware of the regulation, and we have every intent to comply with the regulation and with our obligations. Obviously, it‘s a bit more detailed – we need to be requested, and we have not been requested yet, and secondly, there are very specific circumstances, including timing, for this to happen. And we are still quite far from that window, which is not before the spring of next year. We know that in F1 lots of things can happen in a very limited amount of time, and spring 2021 is still very far. All sorts of things can happen. As I say we will comply with any obligation which may arise from this circumstance.”
In regards to how he perceives Red Bull’s future: “I can‘t imagine that Red Bull would not have some plan in the background. Clearly, they must have been aware of this, and Helmut (Marko) and Christian (Horner) are full of moves and solutions. I don’t expect that we will be their Plan A.”