On 2nd October 2020, Honda announced that they would be withdrawing from F1 at the end of the 2021 season.
In light of this news lets have a look at what this means for Red Bull, Alpha Tauri and F1.
Honda released a statement outlining the reasons for the decision. In basic terms it boils down to a couple of factors, money (or Resources) and Corporate Direction.
“Honda has decided to strive for the realization of carbon neutrality by 2050. This goal will be pursued as part of Honda’s environmental initiatives which is one of the top priorities of Honda as a mobility manufacturer. “Part of the reason for Honda’s decision to leave F1 after 2021
Honda has decided to shift towards being a more environmentally conscience manufacturer, focusing on researching and developing Fuel Cell Vehicle and Battery EV technologies. Honda believe that these technologies will help them achieve the ultimate goal of being a carbon neutral manufacturer by 2050.
“Honda needs to funnel its corporate resources in research and development into the areas of future power unit and energy technologies, including fuel cell vehicle (FCV) and battery EV (BEV) technologies, which will be the core of carbon-free technologies. As a part of this move, in April of this year, Honda created a new centre called Innovative Research Excellence, Power Unit & Energy. Honda will allocate its energy management and fuel technologies as well as knowledge amassed through F1 activities to this area of power unit and energy technologies and take initiatives while focusing on the future realization of carbon neutrality”Honda explaining the future direction of the company.
Another big part of Honda’s decision is financial, according to an article by Forbes in November 2019, it would cost £1.1billion to develop a race winning Power Unit.
£1.1 Billion is a lot of money and commitment from any manufacturer, there are not many companies that would invest such a large sum of money into a project that doesn’t guarantee success.
The financial commitment needed to research and develop the technologies mentioned in the statement does not come cheap, neither does developing the complicated Power Units needed for Formula 1.
Honda decided they wouldn’t or couldn’t do both.
What does this mean for Redbull and F1?
When Honda leave Formula 1 at the end of 2021, their will be 3 manufacturers remaining. With Mercedes and Ferrari providing Power Units to other teams, it leaves only Renault without a customer team.
It would seem to be the obvious choice for Redbull, however this is not as simple as it seems.
Redbull and Renault went through a period of success, all 4 of Sebastian Vettel’s titles at Redbull were in Renault powered cars, but this success has not transferred into the Hybrid Era.
In the end the relationship between Renault and Redbull soured beyond repair leading to Redbull taking the Honda Power Units.
The complicated nature of the current F1 Power Units means that a new supplier is unlikely. Ross Brawn has stated that he doesn’t see a new supplier arriving before 2026, when the PU rules for F1 are being reviewed.
The saving grace for Redbull is that the current Formula 1 regulations state that the engine supplier that supplies the least amount of teams would have to step in to supply the Redbull cars in the event that no deal could be struck with the other suppliers.
Can Redbull and Renault work together again?
Another repercussion from the Honda decision is the future of Max Verstappen. He is the defacto number 1 driver for Redbull with a contract till 2023, however it is thought that the contract has performance clauses linked to the Honda Power Unit.
What is not known is if there is any clauses relating to the withdrawal of Honda from F1. When Honda leaves F1 at the end of next season Max will still have at least 1 year remaining on his current contract. Could we see Max Verstappen as the hottest free Agent in F1?
Hamilton and Verstappen in Mercedes?
Questions For Formula 1
The decision that Honda has given also raises some questions regarding Manufactures participating in motorsport while committing to Environmental Change. For Honda, they couldn’t do both. The question for Formula 1 is how much is it based on finances and how much is it in relation to the Environmental impact of Formula 1.
Honda has form in pulling out and re entering Formula 1. This decision although a surprise shouldn’t be a shock, but it should serve as a warning to F1.
If they don’t move with the times F1 could be left behind.