With Honda announcing that they are to leave Formula 1 at the end of the 2021 season- a shock decision to say the least- teams like Red Bull and Alpha Tauri are going to be chasing suppliers, having been left in disarray.
Honda previously partnered with McLaren from 2015-2018 seasons, marking a return to Formula 1 after being enthused by the stable’s new power units that focused on hybrid and energy recovery power units.
With Red Bull, the results were already reflecting well at the front-end of the grid.
However, all of that stands on the cusp of mega change now.
From a Honda perspective, the decision to exit Formula 1 at a certain stage, though not long from now, signals their intent to focus energies outside of the pinnacle of motorsport.
Probably, the Japanese brand may have figured the sport’s challenge of moving toward a carbon-neutral future a bit of a challenge to negotiate. But that’s largely a fan observation that would do better with absolute future clarity.
But from Red Bull’s concern, Honda’s decision leaves a huge vacuum.
What would hurt even more is that Honda’s shock call follows not long after Aston Martin, their main title sponsors left the team.
The impact, therefore, also hampers the Constructor-supplier alliance.
After having ended their contract with Renault at the end of the 2018 season, albeit amid much speculation and fears on how might the future pan out, Red Bull were on course of rebuilding.
The alliance with Honda, therefore, though freshly conceived, was already showing fast progress.
As a duo, they finished 3rd on the Constructors Standings with 3rd rank in the 2019 season.
In so doing, emerging third-best only to the top teams on the front of the FORMULA 1 grid- Mercedes (739) and Ferrari (504).
Moreover, the ambition of going even further in 2020 was already playing out well as revealed by the ten race results in the pandemic-hit season.
With Verstappen and Gasly emerging the only winners in Honda-powered cars in a season utterly dominated by Mercedes’ Black Arrows, it was hard to overlook the fact that Honda were faring reasonably well, even if one were to turn a shut-eye on the 3 DNFs endured by Max Verstappen’s Honda-powered RB-16.
While the Dutchman, despite successive DNFs has proven himself to be the only thorn in Hamilton’s path toward a highly-likely seventh world title- even if the element of threat seems negotiable from Mercedes’ end- as a constructor Red Bull have enjoyed the upper hand in the season.
With half the races done, Red Bull are second on the standings even if trialing table toppers Mercedes by a vast 174-point deficit.
Even then, they enjoy an 86-point lead over McLaren- clearly the sport’s most resurgent power at this time.
Surely then, the gains for Red Bull in their alliance with Honda are hard to ignore and don’t merely end with Max’s 7 podiums in ten races, including 1 race win.
Woes for a top team- advantage for another
In a year where nothing’s gone right for Ferrari, the hitherto powerful side finding itself being reduced to a sloppy midfielder, Red Bull weren’t finding much to complain about occupying the second-best slot at the front of the very team it was trying to catch up with until the 2019 season.
Taking stock of the situation
Will the morale continue to function unaffected for the remainder of the season in learning the development that – it may not be incorrect to call- is damaging?
It’s anyone’s guess.
Moreover, won’t the Honda departure in the very season where Formula 1 is all set to toy with new set of rules impact the team psyche, and thus, race results even more in 2021?
To their end, Honda, have released an official statement that assures one of the intent to support Red Bull and Alpha Tauri for the remainder of the championship (in 2020) and to also target winning a championship in the season to follow.
Quoting the F1 Official site, “Honda said the decision had been made because the automobile industry was going through a “once-in-one-hundred-years period of great transformation” and that they’ll leave having been “able to attain its goal of earning victories”.
“Honda will work together with Red Bull Racing and Scuderia AlphaTauri to continue competing with its utmost effort and strive for more victories all the way to the end of the 2021 season,”
No easy day, even year ahead?
Surely it won’t be easy rebuilding from scratch in a season where, regardless of where they finally end in 2020 standings, the general consensus of the team and its approach would’ve been to further consolidate their grid position (and therefore accelerate further).
If you’re a fan of the Milton Keynes-outfit, one that’s nurtured the fortunes of an undeniable talent in Max Verstappen and admirably given F1 a force to reckon with- you ought to feel bad.
Why you ought to feel bad ?
Also since with his uncompromising approach-partly reckless, partly temperamental, but purely relentless- Max in his Red Bull has forged a reputation for being a tough cookie for the rest of the grid regardless of where you battle him and the car.
A bad jolt then- is it?
The ‘what-next’ mirrors the biggest overwhelming question.
Where do Red Bull go to now as a customer team?
It’s frankly not hard to understand the team’s dilemma, even as team principal Christian Horner’s statement post-Honda’s announcement alludes to optimism in the stable coming back stronger than ever, having embraced similar challenges in the past.
“Their (Honda) decision presents obvious challenges for us as a team but we have been here before and with our strength in depth we are well prepared and equipped to respond effectively, as we have proven in the past,” said the Briton.
But where it stands at the moment, Red Bull’s only real solution seems to be Renault, the team with which it had parted ways at the end of the 2018 season.
Where it stands at present, Mercedes can’t provide the engine to the Milton Keynes-outfit as they are already providing their Engines to three customer teams. Red Bull won’t go for Ferrari looking at their pace this season. That could probably be the last thing they’d want to happen, with all due respect to the most iconic team in the sport.
So is a Renault-Red Bull alliance on the cards post-2021?
We are still at some distance from knowing anything on that front.
On their part, Red Bull are confirmed to be in the sport until the 2025 season.
But given the impressive array of performances in 2020, a year where new names like Alex Albon picked up a maiden podium, not having Honda as their key asset wouldn’t be the easiest blows to recover from.