Red Bull’s quest for engine options
Red Bull/Renault divorce, instead of allowing the agreement to run its full course – ‘for the sake of the kids’, so to speak. Red Bull have form in that regard: they effectively annulled their former engine contract with Ferrari to gain Renault power for 2007, by shunting their Italian units towards sister operation Toro Rosso.
The big question, then, is: what power units will Red Bull (and Toro Rosso) run in 2016-17? Unless Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz authorises an in-house engine project – unlikely since he recently suggested he would rather exit F1 than go that route – the two main options are either a return to Ferrari, or a deal with Mercedes, on either a shared or split basis. A third possibility has also been mooted: Red Bull takes one of the above options; Toro Rosso goes with Honda.
Already Red Bull are ratcheting up the pressure by alluding to their priority status as ‘works team’ whenever Renault’s future team ownership plans are discussed. This is intended to remind Renault that they are not permitted to prioritise any other team above Red Bull under the terms of the current contract. This would put Renault in an untenable position, were they to proceed with their widely rumoured plan to purchase the Lotus F1 team in the near future.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these manoeuvres over motors is the behind- the-scenes politicking for the gold-standard Mercedes PU106B hybrid. When F1 Racing’s sister publications Autosport and Autocar broke the news that Red Bull were angling for Mercedes engines (via a livery deal with Aston Martin, of which Mercedes holds a ve per cent share, granted in return for an AMG engine supply arrangement), the Silverstone paddock was astounded.
Such an airbox/sidepod ‘badging deal’, is another area that is familiar to Red Bull, since they entered into just such an arrangement with Renault/Nissan alliance brand Inniti. The deal enables the Japanese luxury brand to be seen to be taking on Mercedes for (allegedly) the cost of engine supply only. That deal was brokered by the very management team now installed at Aston, who are keen to be involved “in any conversation where Ferrari are mentioned…”
While Mercedes initially shrugged off the reports, a fortnight later, Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff spoke of “considering all options” and “leaving doors open”. Autocar then published renderings of a future AMGpowered Aston Martin road-going supercar – to be designed and built in conjunction with Red Bull Technologies.
As Formula 1 prepared for action at the Belgian Grand Prix, Wolff admitted to being in two minds over what had become a distinct possibility – with or without Aston war paint – adding that: “It’s not really ideal to strengthen a competitor who knows how to build winning cars.” Asked to comment in Hungary, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said only that he expected to have greater clarity after the summer break.
Clearly in the interim something had happened on the top oor of Daimler-Benz’s palace in Stuttgart, with insiders suggesting that Andy Palmer, Inniti-executive-turnedAston-CEO, had called Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, to apply pressure.
Whether the sight of Red Bull’s team(s) bedecked in three-pointed stars comes to pass depends on myriad factors, but the saga proves that no matter how much F1 fancies itself as living in an insulated bubble, that bubble exists within a very real world.