Why Red Bull thinks it isn’t "completely mad" to do its own F1 engine

It says much about Red Bull’s faith in its own Formula 1 engine project that the collapse of a potential partnership with Porsche has barely ruffled feathers in Milton Keynes.

Why Red Bull thinks it isn’t "completely mad" to do its own F1 engine

For many teams, the possibilities of tying up with such a major car manufacturer would have been viewed as a critical step towards future results and finances. So losing that opportunity as talks got down to the nitty gritty would have triggered some intense panic and a ripping up of demands to try to get the big bosses back to the negotiating table.

But the stance from Red Bull is one of being quite relaxed about how things have turned out. It has been clear for several weeks that it only ever wanted the tie-up with Porsche to be on its own terms and, with it pushing full on with its own Powertrains project, there was no stress and unnecessary pressure in getting a deal across the line.

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As Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says, some would believe his team “mad” to embark alone on the kind of mammoth investment needed to fund a competitive engine project. But Red Bull is no ordinary team and, with the full backing of the energy drinks company to fund the delivery of what’s best for the racing team, there are no alarm bells ringing from the accountants about how things are playing out.

“I think as soon as we made the decision, there was a full commitment, and it's no small undertaking,” said Horner. “I mean, some people think we're completely mad to take on the likes of Ferrari, and Mercedes and Renault and potentially even Honda, starting from scratch. But that is exactly the Red Bull way: to achieve the impossible. They said the same thing about designing and building a chassis.”

He added: “I think it gives us a unique position, other than Ferrari to have everything under one roof. With the synergies that that creates, it allows us to look at other projects, for example, the RB17, and whether we produce our own power unit, for that project. So it strategically is a logical investment after Honda's announcement to withdraw: to take our future into our own hands rather than being reliant on being a customer.”

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Red Bull’s decision to commit to its own engine for 2026 has been eased by the fact that there will be a cost cap on power unit development as part of the new rules – so there is no risk of it getting involved in a full-on spending war against rival OEMs. And having such a long timeframe before its engine gets unleashed in anger on the race track still gives it plenty of time to work out whether a suitable partner can or needs to come on board. 

Porsche's Red Bull buy-in is officially off, but that doesn't appear to have rattled the Milton Keynes outfit.

Porsche's Red Bull buy-in is officially off, but that doesn't appear to have rattled the Milton Keynes outfit.

Photo by: Camille Debastiani

There do remain some fundamental questions that Red Bull will have to answer as time ticks away to 2026. Having its own engine may be great from a competitive viewpoint, but equally it’s not something that is going to help balance the books.

As a company that doesn’t sell road cars, it is unlikely to sell any more cans of drinks just because it runs a Red Bull engine over one from another car manufacturer. And the way the prize money system works in F1, the commercial rights income from winning the world championship with its own engine is identical if it comes home with a Red Bull power unit or one labelled as a Honda, a TAG-Heuer or even a leftfield new entrant that no-one is talking about right now.

Analysis: What's next for Porsche and Red Bull after collapsed F1 deal

The truth is there is nothing to gain financially by sticking it alone and turning down any options for assistance and investment from outside.

“Obviously we have the burden of cost of existing power units, plus development at the moment,” admitted Horner when asked if the money aspects meant it made sense to commit to being fully independent. “But by time we get to 2026, the budget cap will have fully kicked in. And the costs become far more bearable than they were two or three years ago.

“The cost cap again was fundamental to becoming a new entrant. And the way we're structured, we have the capability within a facility of producing engines for up to four teams. But that certainly won't be the initial goal. The initial plan is obviously to supply the two Red Bull-owned teams.”

Red Bull’s ultimate decision goes beyond money though. Horner admits that Red Bull needs to be aware that a manufacturer could help add some good technical know-how to help its own engine project move forward - especially when it comes to the creation of a world beating F1 hybrid system.

“What we were interested in is, when you're building a power unit entity from scratch, with an OEM, what can they potentially bring to the party that we didn't have access to?” he said.

Christian Horner: “Our train has left the station for '26. We have an engine and prototype running, we have all of the dynos commissioned. We're up and running.

Christian Horner: “Our train has left the station for '26. We have an engine and prototype running, we have all of the dynos commissioned. We're up and running."

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

It is clear that there is no looking back at what have been with Porsche from Red Bull’s perspective. Instead, the focus is on the future and doing what is logical and best for the team.

The clear favourite for a partnership is Honda, but the Japanese company is still not sure about if it wants to make a U-turn on its decision to quit F1. Red Bull can wait on that call though. Time is on its side; and, if there is a formal reunion with the Japanese car maker longer term, there is no pressure to hurry its bosses up right now.

“Our train has left the station for '26,” added Horner. “We have an engine and prototype running, we have all of the dynos commissioned. We're up and running.

“Honda, again, a great company, they announced their withdrawal from F1 to focus their attention on the electrification of their products, moving away from the combustion engine. So, you would assume if they were to look at returning to F1, that would have to be taken into account.

“Whether or not there was some interest potentially, on the battery side, and any potential synergies there, it could be an interesting discussion. But the combustion and mechanical side of the engine, we're on a roadmap to 2026 that we're very happy with.”

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Horner suggests Honda could help 2026 Red Bull F1 engine project
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