Honda’s Formula 1 project leader is willing to discuss Red Bull keeping its engines after its 2021 F1 exit so the team can develop them itself or with a new partner.
Honda will leave F1 at the end of 2021 to redirect its research and development resources towards major automotive targets it has set, but wants to support the succession plan Red Bull must come up with for an alternative engine supply for its two teams.
A return to Renault has been mooted as the simplest outcome given the lack of alternative manufacturers and FIA rules that would force Red Bull’s former engine partner to agree a deal if necessary.
However, the sour nature of that relationship’s demise and Red Bull’s desire not to be relegated to engine customer status makes it unlikely to be the team’s first priority.
“As Honda we had so many things from the teams, so we want to give it back somehow in a nice way for the future” :: Masahi Yamamoto
One alternative, which would likely require significant Red Bull commitment as well as agreement from all parties, is for Red Bull to assume Honda’s intellectual property and create a continuation programme for its engines, potentially with additional technical support from another partner.
The Race understands no such request has been made but Honda is willing to consider it as it wishes to make its exit as painless as possible, especially as Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri helped make it an F1 winner again after three hard years with McLaren.
Honda F1 managing director Masashi Yamamoto told The Race: “Honda is happy to talk to them if they need us in any way, not only about the power unit but about other things as well.
“To support AlphaTauri and Red Bull for their programme after 2021 in any way, we’re happy to cooperate.
“As Honda we had so many things from the teams, so we want to give it back somehow in a nice way for the future.”
Asked if there is a limit to how Honda would be willing to help and if it that would stop a potential continuation project using Honda’s technology, Yamamoto said: “If that kind of request is made from the team, I am ready to speak to Japan.
“I personally want to support [what Red Bull and AlphaTauri do] as much as possible.”
Creating the infrastructure required to take over development of Honda’s engine would be a significant undertaking by Red Bull.
However, it has grown its facility at Milton Keynes, has major technical resources and partners, and could use it to redistribute some staff given the incoming budget cap in 2021 will force it to scale back its race team.
Building its own engine in the short-term is not possible for Red Bull but it may consider a rebadged continuation project realistic and preferable to becoming a customer again.
Honda started its Red Bull relationship in 2018 with the then-Toro Rosso junior team, as a precursor to a potential partnership with the senior outfit.
Red Bull was convinced early in the season to make the switch from Renault, with Honda dedicating resources to giving both the teams equal treatment as its de facto work outfits.
“However in the future, Red Bull and AlphaTauri may not have that kind of situation with other parties,” Yamamoto acknowledged.
“So, we want to support and help them in whatever way we can help them for the future.”
“For next year, we will not reduce any people from our project. We will make the biggest effort in order to win as much as possible” :: Masahi Yamamoto
Honda extended its agreement with Red Bull at the end of 2019 to include the 2021 season.
The manufacturer is therefore committed to seeing out that deal rather than undertaking a rapid exit when this season is over, which gives Red Bull more time to establish what it does for its two teams.
Yamamoto said it has been a “disappointing” experience for himself and Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo, who announced the company’s exit last Friday, as they wanted to keep the F1 programme going but had to respect the realities Honda is facing as an automotive company.
He said it was also “uncomfortable” because of the impact it had on two teams and F1 if those teams could not find a competitive solution, reiterating Honda’s desire to help ease the consequences of its exit.
“Our aim is now to exit the sport without making big [negative] changes in the sport,” he said. “That’s our target.”
Honda has promised to develop a new engine for 2021 without reducing its commitment, to try to sign off with a world championship challenge.
Though Red Bull and AlphaTauri have now both won with Honda, making it the only manufacturer to win with two teams in the V6 turbo-hybrid era, this season has not met expectations of a title assault.
However, Red Bull is optimistic it may be able to challenge Mercedes next season, something Honda insists it will be dedicated to trying to achieve as well.
“We still have seven more races to go this year first and we have various things we like to try for next year as well,” said Yamamoto.
“Next year we will try to fight for the championship and have a good ending to our story.
“For next year, we will not reduce any people from our project. We are going to develop more. And we will make the biggest effort in order to win as much as possible.
“We will just keep pushing till the end.”