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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Salvu Borg

The good doctor of the red bullies is at it again, Renault should keep a good eye on their backs.


As the man says, simple, noisy engines are what is needed. Racing is ( or used to be) all about sheer power, speed and handling Leave Hybrids and fuel economy to ordinary road cars where the savings in pollution are really significant.




Caps lock got stuck?




Same old song.

Fred Talmadge

This happens when ever someone dominates racing in some form or another. There are solutions, but you may not like the results.


Once upon a time Formula 1 had multiple tire suppliers, different engines at the same time (V8,10,12), different tactics based on fuel loads and simply many variables. For quite a while everything became uniform and monotonous and the only variable was – aerodynamics. But actually there is nothing variable about aerodynamics either. It is a given that Adrian Newey wins in that field and you can understand why Red Bull do not want an ENGINE Formula. They want an ADRIAN NEWEY Formula. It took the fantastic Mercedes engine (now Ferrari too, to be honest) to offset the horrible presence of… Read more »


Well said! Also love what Roger wrote above. Let RB and the good Dr say farewell. The two best parts of the RB machine these days, in my opinion, are their two lead drivers and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

Salvu Borg

And do you have any idea of how many people work in an aero department?.
While it is true that a man leading a team of very highly specialized people can make all the difference, the more technology advances the more the saying that “no man is an island” will become relevant.

Tom Firth

Ahh the games continue – Red Bull can’t be being seen to be backing an FIA plan, if they did, Mercedes or Ferrari would vote it down. Far easier to threaten to quit if the FIA talk of a cheaper engine doesn’t happen after meeting with OEM’s outside of the series, and why do Red Bull want a cheaper engine? Because it’s the only option for them to get out of the marriage they are stuck in with an at best average Renault in this era of engine supply. They won’t quit, they want to see what commercial deal Liberty… Read more »


Bottom line is that Red Bull would mop the field if they had either a Ferrari or Mercedes engine which is why they will never have one, Mercedes and Ferrari both know they would lose out.

It is a really unfair scenario and Red Bull is in a no win situation unless they manufacture their own engines which I doubt they would be interested in doing.

Red Bull takes a shit Renault engine and is a contender, that scares the hell out of the upper tier, their chassis and aero is miles ahead of everyone else.

Salvu Borg

FERRARI and Mercedes are not willing to offer their hand to anybody that when it suits them best will bite it. further, after the red bullies Vilified Renault throughout the dirtiest mud ever seen in F1 racing and assuring everybody and his dog that they will out their supply contract with Renault, Renault were more than happy to see the back of them, the only reason they still hanging to that supply is because of the Renault reentry into F1 package negated with MR E which actually saved the day for the red bullies.


Doesn’t change the fact that year after year they have a superior car. I understand their frustration, the cards are stacked against them.


Hi A, I can’t agree with you’re views on RBR. They’ve had very good cars, some great drivers and a fantastic team for a number of seasons, but even when they had the best engine (the Renault 2.4l V8 for most of the time from 2007 and 2013), and were Renault’s primary team, they only ‘mopped the field’ a couple of times 2011 and 2013 (I think?) the rest of the time they were competitive but not dominant, certainly not in the way Mercedes have been in the last three seasons.


Well if they were burning oil in their engine they would be ahead as well ;)

I’m not knocking it, good on them for having the initiative and getting away with it for 3yrs.
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Salvu Borg

“burning oil?”, Will not be enough, according to some of the self appointed F1 experts force feed onto us followers, HCCI, Mahle JET combustion system, double anchor injectors, steel printed pistons and some other things right from inside the engine which they were able to see are all a must.


Lolz, It was a poor attempt at being a smart ass. Agree, disagree, that is your liberty :)

Brian Williams

I’m not 100% sold that RBR would “mop the floor”…that being said, I think Merc and Ferrari are, in fact, unwilling to sell RBR engines because they would be much more on par. Why would a manufacturer willingly & knowingly level the field and jeopardize their own success in the process? What would you think of setting some sort of precedent that each engine builder be required, if asked, to sell engines to a minimum number of customer teams? There are presently 3 engine suppliers, so each must be willing and capable, if approached, to supply 1/3 of the engines… Read more »

Roger Flerity

Of all the discussions in F1, this has become the grandest bore. The current formula delivers lap times we have not seen in 15 years, from cars powered by engines smaller than a touring motorcycle, that last 5 races with no failures, while attaining an average of 2MPG over a race distance. This is exactly what F1 is about – the penultimate motor sport. Nothing is as fast. Nothing can touch its speed or quickness with double the fuel use. As far as relevance? Heck yeah its important, as by 2021, virtually every new car made will be powered by… Read more »


Well said Roger, if F1 is going to start getting into retro technology how can it claim to be any form of pinnacle of motorsport?
There’s a long way to go in sorting out what the 2020 spec will be, lets hope that the discussions on what that spec should be are a a bit more far sighted than, Marko’s ‘my way or I’m out of here’ approach.

Salvu Borg

As long as the manufacturers are present whatever specification the new engine will be settled on it will only be road relevant because that is what they will only except. and this is regardless of what Ross Brawn (now that he is sitting on the other side of the fence) and the red bullies wants. The only independent (non manufacturer) supplier entering and with a chance of success I can see is not Cosworth or Illmor but the French joint venture between Machachrome and IFP instruments “TEOS”. If the red bullies strategy is reverting to the previous canpaign of an… Read more »


I suspect that Red Bull are very concerned that they are at risk of going the way of McLaren, in the McLaren / Mercedes story.
Now that Renault have decided to run a full team, as Renault F1 become a contender for the championship their commitment to the success of RBR will diminish rapidly.
So they’re trying to change the game in such a way that they can still win, l just hope that they are doing more constructive things than just threatening to take their bat and ball and go home if they don’t get their way.

Zachary Noepe

Agreed and I’m just not sure 1) whether this piece shouldn’t be in Editorial rather than News and 2) whether the givens in it are factually accurate. We have four engine suppliers one of which will be an independent non-constructor when Honda begins selling to the public if that happens as planned. We have Force India and Haas doing well under the current format. When Autosport polled journalists a few weeks ago it was actually evenly split whether people actually think the cars sound worse now, a lot of people like the sound and like the lower volume, so I… Read more »

Roger Flerity

I don’t buy into the cost concerns red herring issue. Red Bull spend more on aero development and testing than they do on the entire rest of the package. They want a cheaper PU so they can spend more on what they believe is an easier to achieve advantage in aero. Protecting lower grid teams from inevitable failure from the expense is also a false premise. Even when engines were simpler and cheaper, teams fail, as we have seen in HRT and Marussia of late. The current formula did not kill Manor, they died from lack of management skill and… Read more »

Zachary Noepe

Agreed and just as well managed teams can survive without massive money, poorly managed teams can fail with lots, as we’re painfully watching right now. Before Honda was a factor, Force India was trading positions with McLaren using a few castoff McLaren customer bits, at best the same motor and a teensy fraction of budget.

Brian Williams

I think we share some of the same feelings. F1 is supposed to be THE best racing in the world, and currently…it isn’t. Going spec is bad, banning tech is bad. I think simplifying top-side aero and opening up the undertray/floor would go a long way toward improving the sport overall.


Did you mean to say “the penultimate motor sport”?
If so what do you think is the ultimate motor sport?

Brian Williams

Let me start by throwing this out there: I’m not anti-hybrid power units. There, I said it! From the beginning of this hybrid era, the “road-relevancy” argument has flown about from everyone’s lips, the teams, the FIA, the drivers even! If you want road relevancy, there are several avenues that would help generate, IMHO, better racing. 1.) Bring back active suspension. I heard Todd and Paul mention this a few podcasts ago. The point could definitely be made that the teams have spend as much, if nor more than, what they would’ve spend on active suspensions trying to get that… Read more »

Zachary Noepe

Your #3 has worked very well in motorcycles, from larger displacements for four strokes than for twos in dirtbikes, to larger displacements for fewer cylinders on road courses. I raced in a 600 single/500 twin/400 multi class at the bottom rung of racing and the same plan was working in world superbike with 900 ducks battling 750s from Japan. It does work, and puts different strategies and lines onto the track which produced scads of passes and intrigue. Regarding hybrids, an F1 hybrid is now more fuel efficient than a plug in electric. I think one view is not that… Read more »


I don’t think the multi configuration/capacity format would create competitive racing. Trying to set equivalence across different I.C.E or hybrid formats would be fraught with difficulty, because the thousands of smart engineers in the teams will find ways around the rules that a small group of regulators put together. I could envisage a format where the amount of fuel (or input energy) is limited, and the teams have freedom on the power unit they develop to produce the fastest racing car using that energy. That could be really technologically exciting, it would be horrendously expensive. Alternatively, you could have ‘Balance… Read more »

Zachary Noepe

Good points its not apples and apples.

Brian Williams

Great point! I think the freedom for engineers and car designers to work toward a known input energy limit would see some exciting innovation. It would also be very expensive for anyone to start from scratch. I’d think it would be wise to set some sort of limitations, i.e. max. # of cylinders, or whatever seems to make the most sense.

Salvu Borg

A known input energy limit and maximum number of cylinders for designers to work towards are part of the present regulations agreed upon by all involved.


If this message was delivered by anyone else than Red Bull and even more specifically Marko then it wouldnt provoke some of the negative comments I read below. Firstly I dont see him wanting to go back to purely large capacity naturally aspirated engines. Like Prost also said this week simpler yes, and more power (meaning turbos still) just less complicated energy recovery systems. If you want road relevance then energy recovery systems need to be simpler anyways as they would need to be for the road. With less complexity does come lower costs that makes smaller teams more financially… Read more »


Point made Merc/Todt: efficiency, road relevance, rapid prototyping, “pinnacle of motorsport.” But on the circuit they sound like bollocks compared to literally every support race; every other series in motorsport; and indeed even to the F1 medical and safety cars. They do not really provide the kind of visceral on-circuit experience that is the definition of all other motorsport. I suppose that’s a feature and not a bug? If you limit your F1 spectatorship to television and spec sheets – and you are desperately awaiting the “inevitable” hybrid/electric future – then I guess the hybrid engine formula is “great” (??).… Read more »