The Red Bull Engine Conundrum
Another chapter will play out behind the scenes during this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix. Red Bull have been at odds with their engine partner Renault for a couple of seasons now. Since the start of the Hybrid Engine era in 2014, critics have been arguing that F1 has turned into an engine driven formula.
Renault's poor engine reliability along with a lack of outright performance compared to Mercedes and Ferrari meant even Adrian Newey's genius couldn't cover up the performance deficiency. To put things into hindsight, Red Bull won just 3 races in 2017 while they retired due to engine related issues in 6 races.
After the Mclaren Honda divorce in late 2017, it looked like Honda would have to take a sabbatical due to their poor performance. After a lot of diplomacy and hand holding by the FIA and new F1 owners Liberty Media, Honda got a second chance at F1 when the Red Bull Junior Team, Torro Rosso accepted Honda as their new engine partner.
A lot of eyebrows were raised when the news broke on the back of Honda's continued poor performance. But six months later, the situation is slightly more clearer if not less complicated. At the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Honda announced that they had been speaking to Red Bull about a possible works deal. With Torro Rosso being the Red Bull junior team, Red Bull could take a close look at the Honda engine and get performance details and it seems like they liked what they saw.
A works deal will also give Red Bull an extra push in performance due to the close relationship required between the chassis and engine departments to maximize the performance of a team. Further talks between Honda and Red Bull have been scheduled during the upcoming Spanish Grand Prix.
Red Bull's current engine partner Renault had issued a May deadline to Red Bull if they wanted to continue using Renault engines. The current rumor in the paddock is that both Honda and Renault are bringing a substantial engine upgrade during the upcoming Canadian Grand Prix weekend. Red Bull has delayed making their final decision till they can directly compare the performance of the two engines and their development capabilities.
Another thing to consider would be the rule changes in 2021. Owners Liberty Media and the FIA are planning a significant overhaul of the rules in the 2021 to improve racing and to tempt more manufacturers to join the sport. Red Bull holds an existing technical partnership with marque car maker Aston Martin. Aston Martin have made no secret of the fact that they are considering entering in the year 2021 as an engine supplier.
So if Red Bull do decide to switch to Honda, will it just be a short-term deal till 2021 or will they be committing themselves for the foreseeable future? Do they stick with their current engine partner Renault with whose help they won 4 constructor championships? Only time will tell how this story pans out, but one thing is for sure, Red Bull has a tough decision to make on their hands.