Renault should be obliged to supply Red Bull and AlphaTauri in the wake of Honda’s withdrawal at the end of 2021, if Red Bull cannot find an alternative engine partner for 2022.
Honda’s shock announcement it will leave F1 at the end of next season means Red Bull and its sister team AlphaTauri must search for a new engine partner.
Both teams were most recently powered by Renault, with AlphaTauri (then Toro Rosso) separating for 2018 to move to Honda and Red Bull following one season later.
Renault powered Red Bull to four consecutive title doubles from 2010 to 2013 but the partnership soured throughout the V6 turbo-hybrid era as Renault’s competitiveness and reliability dropped dramatically and Red Bull took aim at its engine supplier.
The revival of the works Renault team did not help matters, leading to Red Bull running ‘Tag Heuer’-branded Renault engines in the end before a bitter final separation after the 2018 campaign.
Red Bull will likely have to become a customer again with no new engine manufacturer on the F1 horizon before 2026 and Red Bull lacking the expertise and infrastructure to produce its own engine programme.
The only alternative, however unlikely, would be for Red Bull to take over Honda’s programme in some way.
This could be by funding the facilities and resources – unlikely given Honda wants that for its huge new automotive targets – or by convincing Honda to sell its intellectual property for Red Bull to replicate the engines on its own.
If forced to continue down the customer path, the messy 2018 separation makes a Renault reunion unlikely to be Red Bull’s leading priority.
Red Bull will surely target Mercedes, having wanted its engines before, given the manufacturer has dominated this engine era and established a fresh advantage in 2020, while Ferrari has taken a significant step backwards.
If Mercedes Grand Prix continues to compete as a team, a Red Bull deal will depend on whether Mercedes is willing to supply a direct rival.
But there has been constant speculation that Mercedes may sell its operation in the future. If it did reduce its F1 presence to only becoming an engine supplier, a prospect that Mercedes has denied, that could be perfect timing for Red Bull.
If not, and Ferrari is either off-limits or undesirable from a Red Bull perspective, then its two teams will be able to count on an FIA failsafe to force a marriage of “convenience” with Renault.
The FIA’s regulations contain a specific equation-based rule to avoid a team being left short of an engine supplier.
As well as stipulating a €15million supply price, the sporting rules permit the governing body to call upon the manufacturer supplying the lowest number of teams to supply extra teams as well.
Based on the current situation that would be Renault, which will only supply its works Alpine programme from 2021 onwards, while Mercedes will theoretically have four customers (the works team, Racing Point, McLaren and Williams) and Ferrari three (the works team, Alfa Romeo and Haas).
Renault wants an engine customer to replace Mercedes-bound McLaren because of the advantages this brings in terms of not only revenue but also development – with extra on-track mileage.
It has been linked with Ferrari customers Alfa Romeo and Haas. Should it poach either team for an engine supply then the FIA’s equation would make both Renault and Ferrari obliged to supply the two Red Bull teams.
If deals were not struck independently in this scenario, the FIA would allocate the supply by a ballot between Ferrari and Renault.
But if Red Bull has no other options by the summer of 2021, Renault will be obliged to supply one of its teams – if not both.