Earlier today, Formula 1 was shocked by Honda’s announcement that they will leave the sport at the end of 2021.
The decision comes following an ‘internal transformation’ within the Japanese manufacturer and ambitions to become carbon neutral by 2050.
Honda initially returned to F1 with McLaren as an engine supplier in 2015. However, a lack of power and reliability quickly caused the partnership to turn sour.
After enduring three ill-fated seasons, Honda found refugee with the then-Toro Rosso team. Shortly after, they joined forces with Red Bull at the start of last season.
In their short time together, they’ve achieved a relative amount success. Across 31 Grand Prix starts, they’ve claimed four wins and 17 podiums.
Additionally, Honda added another three podiums with the junior team AlphaTauri (nee Toro Rosso). This includes Pierre Gasly’s famous victory in last month’s Italian Grand Prix.
Consequently, this leaves both teams without a engine supplier ahead of the new regulation changes in 2022.
Speaking in the team’s official statement, Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner said the following:
“As a team we understand how difficult is has been for Honda Motor Company to reach the decision to step back from Formula One at the end of the 2021 season.
“The shifting focus within the automotive industry has led to Honda’s decision to re-deploy their resources and we understand and respect the reasoning behind this.
Limited Engine Options to Choose From
From 2022, Formula 1 will be left with only three engine manufacturers.
This leaves the trio of Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault as the options available to Red Bull and AlphaTauri.
Out of those available, a supply deal with Renault looks the most viable, as they won’t have any customer teams next season.
However, there will be political tension between the two parties, given how publicly their previous partnership ended.
Following various reliability problems with Renault, Red Bull re-branded their Renault engines as TAG Heuer in 2016.
Despite some increased performance, the reliability issues remained, leading to Red Bull choosing Honda for 2019.
This will leave Renault’s Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul in two minds over renewing such a troublesome relationship.
However, Abiteboul may not have a say in the matter.
The regulations state that the manufacturer with the least customers will have to supply a team should another quit F1.
To add more complications for Renault, the other two manufacturers already have at least two other customer teams.
Next year, Mercedes will supply engines to McLaren, the new Aston Martin team and Williams alongside its own works team.
Additionally, Ferrari will also provide engines to Haas and Alfa Romeo.
Both also consider Red Bull to be their main rival in the championship, so it’s unlikely that either will want to aid them.
Verstappen To Leave Red Bull?
Honda’s departure has brought renewed attention to the exit clause in Max Verstappen’s Red Bull contract.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that Verstappen would be allowed to leave Red Bull should Honda decide to leave F1. This is despite the fact that the Dutchman’s current contract runs until the end of 2023.
Speaking to Motorsport-Magazin.com in February, Dr. Helmut Marko explained the situation:
“Generally speaking, it is a fixed contract and if everything goes in the right direction there will be no problems.”
“We have a contract with Honda until 2021, but obviously being without an engine for the future it would complicate all our plans.
“Consequently, it is clear that we need a competitive engine to keep hold of Verstappen.”
Unsurprisingly, talks of Verstappen leaving to join a rival team have resumed, though it is unclear where he could go.
A shock switch to Mercedes has been touted. The Silver Arrows have yet to sign either Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas to long-term contracts.
Ferrari is out of the question with Charles Leclerc on a long-term contract. Additionally, Carlos Sainz Jr. will also join the Scuderia until 2022.
Conversely, given his position within the team, Red Bull could possibly ask for Verstappen’s recommendations to keep him onside.