Red Bull and Honda have announced that they will continue their technical collaboration on the power unit front until 2025, but does that have an effect on the Formula 1 team’s talks with Porsche? Tech Draft explains.
Tuesday’s announcement that Red Bull Racing (RBR) and Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) have extended the current technical support programme that is in place between the two companies by two more years until the conclusion of the 2025 Formula 1 season has many curious about how it relates to the reported pending partnership between Red Bull and Porsche.
Probably the most important consideration to all of this is in the understanding of the details of the agreements that exist between RBR and HRC.
Essentially there would be two agreements in place between the two, the first a legal mechanism allowing RBR to utilize HRC intellectual property (IP), the power unit, and the second for which a validity extension was announced yesterday is an agreement between the two parties for technical services supporting the operation of the IP.
Honda Protected by IP Licensing and Technical Services agreements
Contrary to the beliefs of many, the legal mechanism allowing RBR to utilise HRC IP is not an acquisition or sale contract, but rather an IP Licensing Agreement (IPLA), as confirmed recently during the Austrian Grand Prix weekend by HRC president, Koji Watanabe.
In the context of the agreement between HRC and RBR, the IPLA is a legally binding mechanism granting RBR the use of HRC IP, the PU, without transferring ownership of the IP.
It is highly likely that under the IPLA, HRC even retains ownership of all objects, the PU’s, regardless of who manufactures them.
THE IPLA between the two parties would also include mechanisms to ensure that RBR uses the HRC IP in the manner intended and lay out the consequences of non-compliance with the agreement.
Given the initial capital outlay HRC had invested in the development of the Honda F1 power unit, and with the knowledge that RBR intended to partner with Porsche, a direct market competitor to HRC’s parent company Honda in many ways, the F1 PU IPLA between HRC and RBR would rightly be an iron-clad legally binding agreement protecting Honda’s rights to ownership of the IP, and against the possibility of knowledge transfer constituting IP theft.
The support services agreement (TSA) would primarily be required because as HRC were responsible for the researching, developing, and manufacturing of the IP in the first instance, there would be much to gain by means of the technical expertise and efficiencies realized by the utilization of their inherent knowledge, which would be very difficult to transfer given the language and cultural barriers.
Another important observation about the TSA and its relevance given the pending RBR/Porsche partnership is that by providing specific technical services supporting the operation, maintenance, and repair of the power units, HRC is more than likely better protecting their asset, the IP, through the mitigation of the need for RBR or other personnel to perform the associated tasks.
Honda a “pay-for-use” PU supplier
Honda may have already made the decision to pull out of F1 as a factory supported PU supplier, but by entering into the IPLA and TSA with RBR, they would now be recovering more than a simple nominal fee that is rewarding them for their previous development pains.
There is a very good reason why Honda, through its subsidiary HRC, have little branding on the RBR cars anymore, and that is because for all intents and purposes the Honda PU is now a “pay-for-use” PU in an exclusive arrangement.
Nonetheless, legal agreements aside there is a very big difference between developing an F1 PU and operating one, and it is this aspect that is important to keep in mind because as an F1 PU is so complex, attempting to reverse engineer one without the inherent knowledge that would have been acquired during its development would be near on impossible.
The 2026 F1 PU will almost be start from scratch anyway
When F1 enters its next PU era at the start of the 2026 season it will be doing so without the extremely expensive and complex MGU-H technology, will be increasing to two MGU-K units per car with a much greater power output and will use synthetic fuel with a much higher bio content to what is currently used by the current PU’s, amongst numerous other more minor changes.
However, these changes will not be incidental and consequently all PU suppliers will need to redesign the PU architecture somewhat and go through a whole new research and development programme, and in many ways the new for 2026 PU regulations will be a complete reset, one that will largely render knowledge of any current era Honda PU secrets irrelevant.
Even if Honda made the decision to remain in F1 in their current form as a “pay-for-use” PU supplier in the new 2026 PU era, they too would need to come up with a new design and develop it as well.
Red Bull and Porsche may very well be announcing that they will partner together for the new 2026 PU era, and it may be announced any day now, but ultimately the announcement made yesterday about the extension of the RBR/HRC TSA will have no impact on it whatsoever, and it more than likely has happened having been fully disclosed to Porsche and their owner Volkswagen AG.