Red Bull, Mercedes want action on F1 engine costs after Honda exit

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Red Bull and Mercedes are both calling on Formula 1 to address engine costs following Honda's decision to pull out after 2021.

While the hybrid power units have been praised for their incredible performance and efficiency, the financial aspect of their introduction back in 2014 has been huge for the four manufacturers who produce them.

Initially, a token system was introduced to try and limit the costs, but this was dropped at the end of 2016 amid concerns it was preventing the other suppliers from catching Mercedes.

But by dropping it, spending increased even more, resulting in the unsustainable environment which exists today.

“On the chassis side we’ve had a budget cap introduced, I think on the engine side measures have been taken during the lockdown to reduce costs,” Red Bull boss Christian Horner explained to Channel 4.

“But the engines are still enormous amounts of money for what they are.

“I think you’re talking close to £200m as an annual cost to have a competitive power unit in Formula 1 which is unsustainable for any manufacturer in current times.

“There’s an obligation on the teams, on the governing body and on the promoters to say ‘right, Honda have gone, they’ve given us their reasons, now we’ve got to get the situation under control and reduce the costs significantly on the power unit side’.”

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After Honda's exit, Red Bull is weighing up whether to take over the engine project, but has called for a complete freeze on development if that is to be the case.

What the departure of the Japanese brand has also done is put even greater importance on F1's future direction on engines, with an overhaul expected in 2026.

“I think we’ve got two situations. Our own situation as a team and then you’ve got the situation for the sport,” said Horner.

“I think for the sport, they need to come up with an engine for the future that addresses three criteria.

“For me, one is it has got to be affordable, it’s got to be loud, produce V8, V10 kind of sound, whether it is a V8 or a V6 or V10, I think the sound is something that the fans miss, it’s something we miss.

“And it does have to have a social responsibility in its sustainability. They’re the three criteria that the future engine needs to address but that’s not scheduled until 2026 at the moment.”

Mercedes has already reportedly given their approval to Red Bull's idea of an engine freeze in 2022, with team boss Toto Wolff echoing Horner's view.

"With the hybrid introduction, it was an engineering exercise: what kind of engine can we actually develop?" he said.

"We didn’t realise that we would have a fantastic engine with, today, more than 50 per cent thermal efficiency that doesn’t exist in any other sport.

"'But they’re much too expensive," Wolff admitted. "So we need to introduce a spending cap for power units, that’s clear, like we’ve done on the chassis side in order to make it more sustainable and in order to attract other OEMs [original equipment manufacturer] in the future."

There was a push initially when Liberty Media came in in 2017 to change the engine regulations for 2021 but it was later dropped.

"Should we have changed the regulations? The problem is if we had changed them earlier it would have meant an additional investment for all of us, which wouldn’t have been sustainable, and after a couple of years, three, four years, you’re starting all over again," the Mercedes boss reflected.

"Where we all came together: Honda, Ferrari, Renault and ourselves was that after 2025 would be the right time.

"Certainly, a cost cap and some kind of freeze needs to be introduced earlier, bearing in mind we need the status where all engines are about equal. We don’t want to have a situation where we’re freezing power units and there are big discrepancies in performance.

"But going forward, we all need to all sit around a table, discuss what is the right technology for the real world, how can we simplify technology in order to spend less and then have a new format that everybody buys into from 2026 onwards."

Before then, however, Haas team boss Guenther Steiner warns it is not unforeseeable that another manufacturer could decide to pull the F1 plug given the current economic climate.

“I think we need to be aware that this happens any day with anybody,” he told GPFans.

“You need to think back, I don’t know if it was 2008, 2009 when three manufacturers pulled out. From one day to the other, Formula 1 was a different world.

“We don’t have to forget what happened this March. A pandemic came along and all of a sudden, we were in a bad spot, all of us.

“But we keep on forgetting that this thing can happen in Formula 1. This is not an essential business.

“Each company can decide to pull out any day. As much as we’re surprised, we shouldn’t be surprised because again, this can happen tomorrow.”