Red Bull could leave F1 if engine format isn’t sorted this year

If you start throwing around time gaps and deltas at Dr. Helmut Marko, you’re going to get a quick correction if your math(s) isn’t correct.

Q: Helmut, before the Bahrain race Daniel said that Red Bull Racing are 1.3 seconds behind Mercedes and that this is the gap that is between him and the title. Is that the reality, or is he painting things a little too black?

Helmut Marko: Let me get our pace history straight: in Australia we were 1.8 seconds behind, in China it was 1.3 seconds and in Bahrain something in the range of nine-tenths. So we are improving and step by step closing the gap – but it is, of course, not enough. And looking at qualifying where the cars show their sheer speed, we know that Mercedes has a qualification mode – and to a certain extent also Ferrari – and that helps them a lot. And by constantly closing the gap to them I would say that the direction we are moving in is promising. And as you don’t get any points in qualifying, it is good news that in the race we are usually stronger if problems don’t stop us like on Sunday when Max suffered a brake issue.

That stands to reason if you are a part of the Red Bull team. Let’s not over-inflate our delta for drama and let’s get the time right to show what we are achieving even though our power unit is down on…well, power.

To those ends, an interesting Q&A over at revealed that Red Bull may not be around much after 2020. It seems the recent meeting with the FIA was a critical one for the future of Red Bull in F1. The discussion was about the next engine format and where the series goes from the current V6 turbo hybrid power unit.

Q: An engine customer will always depend on his supplier – you have probably learned that the hard way in the last four years. Is there any ambition from your side to change that situation one day?

HM: Of course – and not ‘one day’. The latest must be 2021 that an independent engine supplier comes into F1. This is more than necessary – and the engine has to be simple, noisy and on the cost side below ten million. We are talking about a much less sophisticated engine to what we have now – a simple racing engine. There are enough companies around that could supply. So we expect from the new owners together with the FIA to find a solution at the latest by the end of this season. If that doesn’t happen our stay in F1 is not secured.

This will be the single biggest hurdle. It’s hard to get the horse back in the barn once its run. I’m not going to recant the entire debate over road relevancy and the future being electric again. It think we’ve beat that dead horse until it moves giving some semblance of life.

No, I’d rather talk about the challenge of making a simple, inexpensive engine that get enormous fuel mileage through a normally aspirated format because that’s exactly what I think Marko is talking about.

I was one of the few defending Red Bull when they were throwing their toys out of the pram over an engine supply deal from Mercedes or Ferrari and neither engine giant would supply them. Sure, they berated Renault but is that much unlike what teams, fans and even some at McLaren are doing to Honda these days? No one seems concerned over that but comes an stray word from Red Bull about the Renault power unit being their Achilles heel and the world turns upside down.

Fact is, the sport needs privateers like McLaren, Williams and Red Bull. Large teams that spend large sums on the sport. Like an American presidential election, nothing is forever and F1 regulation changes are usually somewhere between 4-6 years. Why not try something affordable? We’ve bankrupted teams over this outrageously high tech hybrid stuff, let’s see if we can be disruptive and create an ICE that barely sips fuel. Why not? IT won’t last forever, regulations will change again and then maybe FIA president Jean Todt can have his hydrogen power plant in the backs of cars.

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