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Horner admits surprise at Honda U-turn

NEWS STORY
27/05/2023

Red Bull boss admits that it would never have contemplated building its own engines if it had imagined that Honda might reverse its decision to leave the sport.

Nobody wants to break up a winning team, and while Honda announced that it was to quit the sport before winning the 2021 title with Red Bull, when the Japanese manufacturer pulled the plug the Austrian team was left with few options.

Mercedes was entirely out of the question, while all bridges with Renault had been well and truly burned, consequently Red Bull opted to go it alone.

Buoyed by the title success of 2021, Honda opted to continue assisting Red Bull until 2025, the year before the introduction of the new formula, while the Austrian company set about creating its own powertrain division.

Of course, setting up as an engine manufacturer when you already finance two F1 teams isn't cheap, and Honda's subsequent decision to return to the sport in 2026 with Aston Martin must have been frustrating for the team with which it continues to enjoy current success.

"I think it's positive for Honda, it's positive for Formula 1," said Christian Horner, when asked about the decision. "They're a great brand. And have got a great legacy in the sport.

"We've enjoyed and continue to enjoy, and will do so for another two and a half years, a great relationship and supply with them," he continued. "Obviously, they announced their withdrawal in 2020. And that forced us to make a decision, long term-wise as to what strategically was the best route forward for us. And so, we created Red Bull Powertrains, they agreed to become a technical supplier to Red Bull Powertrains, and we've enjoyed a great working relationship.

"But of course, now we're off on our own journey as an engine manufacturer, with the partnership with Ford. And that's exciting for us for the future. But, you know, Honda, from '26 will become a competitor, but I think it's positive for Formula 1, it's positive for them to remain in the sport."

Asked if he was surprised by the U-Turn, he laughed: "Well, for me, it demonstrates that the combustion engine isn't dead yet. That there's still life in combustion, because obviously when they withdrew, it was because of electrification. And I think perhaps with sustainable fuels and zero emissions and the route that Formula is going for 2026, combustion became relevant to them again, whereas it was something that was very much off their agenda. And so who knows? Maybe we'll get to back to V8 and V10s that are fully sustainable. Wouldn't that be fantastic."

On Thursday, Max Verstappen had said it was a shame that Honda had originally announced its decision to quit, almost forcing Red Bull to branch out.

Asked about the Dutchman's comment, Horner said: "It was certainly an expensive decision... but look, I think for us, for the long term prospects of Red Bull, we've outgrown being a customer and, for us to have the power unit on site, on campus, integrated fully with chassis and the synergies that creates, with engine and chassis engineers sitting next to each other, I think for us, for the long term, the advantages are significant. And we would not have made that jump had it not been for Honda's withdrawal, so in many respects, Honda, we should be grateful for giving us that push to create our own engine facility and the jobs that it's created and provided and then, of course, the partnership that we have with Ford that's particularly exciting for the future.

"As for the commitment, obviously, from Red Bull and the shareholders to the project. Would we have made the same decision knowing what Honda's decision is today? Absolutely not. But we've made it and we're committed to it and the more we've got involved, the more benefit we see to the group long term."

Asked to explain the current relationship with Honda, Horner said: "That we pay for an engine and we receive a service.

"The relationship with Honda has been phenomenal," he continued, "and we've been treated as a partner as well as a customer. And having experienced different relationships with different engine manufacturers, to have the ability to specify certain parameters within the engine and fully integrate it with your chassis team, that's something that's completely new for us, something we experienced to a degree with Honda, but now are taking to a new level for the 2026 season.

"It's exciting, you know, taking on a new challenge, a start-up company taking on some iconic brands in Formula 1 as a power unit manufacturer. It's an enormous challenge, but one that we're relishing."

Asked if there was any scenario in which it would have been possible for Red Bull Powertrains and Honda to join forces on the longer term, and how he feels about the Honda-Aston Martin combination, particularly in terms of Dan Fallows being on board, Horner replied: "We've had a lot of discussion with Honda as a valued partner over the last few years and originally the deal was that they were going to be totally out of the sport by the end of 2022 and we'd be responsible for assembling the engines ourselves.

"We managed to convince Honda to remain and to continue to assemble those engines to the end of 2025. We then had discussions in the autumn and heading into the winter of last year, about, you know, was there potentially any link-up regarding the electrification, because combustion was still something that they were not keen to continue with then.

"But, to be honest, there were too many compromises, probably on both sides, that would be needed to be made to enable that to happen. So that's when we decided to take up the option with Ford and make our commitment.

"Honda are a great partner to have, I'm sure that the team at Silverstone will enjoy working with them. But again, that's still two-and-a-half years away. Aston Martin, we were the sandwich between.... or the filling in the sandwich between Aston Martin and Honda the last time when Aston were our title partner. So obviously, I think they found a way of overcoming whatever differences they have as automotive manufacturers and I think for Formula 1 it's positive that the Honda brand remains in the sport."

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1. Posted by Max Noble, 27/05/2023 11:05

"…and over to the FIA bean counters to workout what cost go where under which rule set on that one! Both Red Bull and Honda now have 10,000 houses within which to squirrel away expenses. And Ford are not even under the cost cap yet! Ah! Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream…?"

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