Honda made headlines when it decided to step back from Formula One, no longer providing power units to Red Bull Racing or AlphaTauri after the 2021 season. Red Bull has been left to explore other options to provide its power, but more recently, its most recent might be its most interesting yet: It will take over Honda’s project itself... as long as the circumstances are right.
F1 has been considering a variety of new, cost-saving measures to make it cheaper for teams to participate. One of those measures would be an engine freeze at the start of 2022, which would prevent teams from developing their power unit for a set number of years.
If that happens, Red Bull wouldn’t have to worry too much. It could take over the Honda project and some of the facilities close to the RBR factory in Milton Keynes, England. Then, Red Bull could just maintain engines it’s already been using, and Honda wouldn’t be tapped for any further resources.
Helmut Marko, Red Bull’s motorsport advisor, told German-language outlet Sport1 that it was a viable solution:
It’s a very complex subject. Just as complex as these engines are.
We would favor, provided the talks with Honda are positive, that we take over the IP rights and everything that is necessary, to then prepare and deploy the engines ourselves in Milton Keynes.
But this is only possible on condition that the engines are frozen by the first race in 2022 at the latest. We cannot afford further development, neither technically nor financially. That is a prerequisite.
It could be an answer for some of the team’s problems. Red Bull has always sourced engines from an outside manufacturer, opting to spend the bulk of its developmental budget on making a really solid, aerodynamically innovative chassis. But Honda’s exit means that the team would have to purchase engines from one of the three engine manufacturers with works teams already racing in the sport: Ferrari, Mercedes, and Renault. And Toto Wolff of Mercedes already ruled itself out as a potential supplier, saying his team is already at capacity with customers.
Because it supplies fewer teams with a power unit than its competition, Renault could be forced to once again supply Red Bull Racing due to F1's regulations—something I don’t think either party wants. Relations between Renault and Red Bull had already soured after RBR accused Renault of providing the team with underpowered engines. Red Bull’s switch to Honda soon after was no surprise.
Of course, there are a lot of open ends in Red Bull’s new plan, the big one being the fact that it relies on F1 developing a new set of regulations to make it work. Whatever the case, Red Bull's future is still hazy.