Red Bull… or just bull

If Red Bull’s engine strategy for the future is to campaign for an independent engine supplier, the company is in more trouble in F1 than I thought. In its current situation, Red Bull Racing ought to be out there, doing whatever is necessary to get a manufacturer deal. If that is not possible, then they ought to be paying someone to build them an engine, as TAG did with Porsche back in days of yore. If you want to win races in the modern world of Formula 1, you need to have a factory engine. If you want evidence of this, it is very clear. Ferrari customer teams have one only one race in the modern era (since 1980). That was Sebastian Vettel’s win at Monza in 2008 with Toro Rosso. Mercedes customers have yet to win a race since the start of the new formula in 2014. Independent customer engines would seem to be a thing of the past. One can bring back the idea, but how does one make them competitive with the factory motors that are being developed all the time? That did happen in the 1970s, when Cosworth engines battled with Ferraris and Matras, but after the arrival of the turbocharged engines of the 1980s, Cosworth faded away as a force in F1. There were some other customer engine arrangements, such as the Megatrons, Playlifes, Supertecs, Mecachromes, Asiatechs and Acers, but these were all rebadged manufacturer engines rather than proper independent engine suppliers – and none of them won a race.

Red Bull’s theory is, it seems, that if the importance of horsepower is neutralised again, Red Bull ought to emerge ahead, as was the case when F1 was stuck with its frozen V8s before the current engine formula began in 2014. That old formula did nothing for the image of the sport as being technologically advanced. Red Bull was fortunate in many ways because it had Renault engines at a time were dominant and Renault had blown its own ambitions with the cataclysmic Singapore Scandal in 2009, which drove the company from the sport, red-faced in embarrassment at having its employees get caught cheating disgracefully. It took the firm five years to come back, giving Red Bull a window to become a lead team for a manufacturer. The team seized the opportunity and it paid off handsomely, although in the end Renault felt the need to return, irritated by the fact that Red Bull was getting all the publicity. The new rules helped Renault come back, but the resulting engines have not yet been great and Red Bull made a serious mis-step by complaining too loudly about the engine supply. Renault was happy to see the back of the team, when Red Bull cancelled the contract and stomped off in the summer of 2015, under the misguided impression that Mercedes was going to give it engines.  The team discovered that no one else was interested in supporting those who bite the hand that feeds them, and it was all rather embarrassing for Red Bull and they dressed the engines up as TAG-Heuers to avoid the reality that they were really only a Renault customer again. As the Renault F1 team is now beginning to get up to speed, Red Bull needs a new idea and as no manufacturers seem to be interested so the choice is rather limited: build your own engine (and why would a fizzy drink company do that?) or argue for an engine that might work out in your favour.

Ross Brawn has made it clear that he thinks that an independent engine supplier is a good idea, which is not a real surprise as it cuts the power of the manufacturers, who otherwise have considerable influence over their customers. But is it realistic in the modern day and age, with the technology we have today?

Cosworth did design an engine for the new formula but that was a long time ago and the company does not have the funding to pursue its F1 ambitions. It has turned its attention to other work. To get the whole thing up to speed would require a great deal of money – and the only way that could really happen if if there was a manufacturer willing to make the investment. Back in the 1960s Cosworth did manage to pull off just such a stunt by getting money from Ford to build the DFV. That was one of Ford’s greatest investments as it won a string of races without having any huge financial involvement in the engines. Getting another manufacturer (or Ford, come to that) to do the same thing might be a good way to get the independent engine that FOM wants – while also offering the investor great value in branding, but the engine development race would need to be slowed down in order for that to work. There is another engine out there somewhere because the original PURE project may have died, but the engine that it was developing was inherited by its supporter TEOS Powertrain Engineering, located in Montigny-le-Bretonneux, not far from Versailles. The PURE Corporation itself was liquidated at the end of 2015.

Teos is a joint venture between Mecachrome and the IFP Investissements, a French public company which is dedicated to research in energy and hybrid development. With the change in rules in 2017, Teos did approach some F1 teams, hoping to find some interest and indicated at the time that the project was still being headed by two old stagers in the F1 world Jean-Pierre Boudy and Jean-Francois Nicolino.

If money can be found, this engine could be developed as an independent supplier.

It is still a bit of a long shot, but it seems that this is the best idea Red Bull has at the moment.