With Honda out the Formula 1 door at the end of this season, Red Bull have launched their Powertrains division to take over the company’s power unit IP to be established and developed at the Milton Keynes campus, as explained by Christian Horner
While the new operation is not as yet courting manufacturer collaboration, that door is not closed and could well pave the way for the likes of the Volkswagen Group or any manufacturer for that matter deciding on an F1 foray in the future.
In an interview with Autocar regarding Red Bull’s plunge into engine building, Red Bull team principal Horner confirmed that a plan for such a partnership is on the table: “We’re open to working with any OEM or technical entity
“But emphasised the current priority: “We’re extremely keen to have the engine fully integrated into the chassis side of the business, hence this investment. It would be very much getting involved with our entity rather than doing something different.”
Red Bull are back in the headlines for all the right reasons, they lead the two F1 championships after a magnificent Monaco Grand Prix for them while their archrivals Mercedes imploded on the day.
Honda’s generous departing gift to Red Bull was not a slam dunk from the start, and took some boardroom manoeuvering for it to happen, as the energy drinks outfit were back in the not unfamiliar position of seeking a PU solution for their two teams in the top flight.
Neither Renault nor Mercedes were interested in supplying their rivals. Horner explained: “Circumstances prevailed that forced us into a decision of whether to go back into a world of customer engines, having enjoyed a great relationship with Honda for the past couple of years.
“Having sampled what that feels like and what it’s capable of, it left a question: do we go back to being a customer and the compromise that imposes, or do we take this opportunity to fully integrate the power unit into the technical team, on-site in Milton Keynes, and become the only team other than Ferrari to have everything under one roof?
“We need a competitive engine, and this is the best route. Mercedes wouldn’t supply one and Renault didn’t want to supply one, so it didn’t leave us with a lot of choice. We’ve got to get on with it and make Toto rue that decision. Maybe one day he will need an engine from us!”
“This project opens up all kinds of possibilities to us and if we were ever to look at an evolution of a car under our own name, then we have both chassis and engine capabilities. It was a hell of a ballsy decision to go for it, but that’s Red Bull,” declared Horner.
Before providing an update on the project: “We’re fully into the construction phase. We’re adapting one of the units we have on the 30-acre site in Milton Keynes. We should be commissioned and operational by the end of April next year. It’s a massive undertaking, but I believe we will hit those timescales.
“Fundamental to our decision was getting a freeze on the current power unit, which we achieved in February, with the support of the FIA. That gives us a softer landing, and Honda has been extremely helpful, allowing us to use its intellectual property moving forward.
“And then, of course, we’re building a team to focus very much on the new engine regulations for 2025 or 2026. That’s why we’ve been focused on attracting a group of talent into the business to take on this project.
“It’s a leap of faith, but it’s an exciting one. I think people have seen how and what Red Bull has done in motorsport and the commitment it has. It’s based in the UK, it’s 30 miles from Brixworth, they don’t need to move house or move their children from school and it’s a chance to be involved in something from scratch.
“Obviously we’re going to have an expensive couple of years as we gear up, but then there are powertrain budget caps being discussed that are extremely realistic to be introduced in the next couple of years. We’re talking about around the €50-million ($61-million) mark on research and development, which, suddenly from where budgets have been, makes it entirely feasible.”
Beyond self-sufficiency, the Powertrains division can increase Red Bull’s already significant footprint in F1 said Horner: “For us, it really does fill a gap that has always been missing and had been our Achilles heel until Honda came along: that we haven’t had control of our own destiny.
“We’re tremendously useful to Liberty Media and F1, because we could gear up to supply other teams if required, as manufacturers tend to come and go. To have an independent engine builder like Red Bull Powertrains is attractive to Liberty.
“Red Bull has two grand prix teams and a circuit (Red Bull Ring) and is involved in all the junior categories and all major forms of motorsport around the globe. I don’t think there’s a company that has committed more to the sport, including OEMs, than Red Bull.”
The 47-year-old has led Red Bull in F1 since 2005, when he was the youngest ever team principal at the helm of a team, and there is still much to do for Horner: “I’m enjoying the challenge and I’m fully motivated. Starting a new entity like this is exciting.
“For me, [F1] is a people sport, and it’s about bringing in the right people to create a team, as we’ve done on the chassis side. Now the challenge is to do it on the powertrain side too.
“In true Red Bull fashion, the biggest motivation to do something is to be told you can’t,” added Horner.
Editor’s Note: We had covered for our readers a long time ago: