Christian Horner has revealed Red Bull held “exploratory discussions” with Ferrari over a possible Formula 1 engine deal before deciding to go its own way for 2022 and beyond.
Red Bull announced in February that it was creating its own in-house engine division, Red Bull Powertrains, to take over the running of Honda’s engines from 2022 until the end of 2024 following the Japanese manufacturer’s decision to quit F1 at the end of the year.
It followed an agreement between the F1 teams to freeze engine development until the new era of power unit regulations that will come into effect in 2025.
Honda’s decision to leave F1 had initially left Red Bull and its sister team AlphaTauri in a state of limbo before the engine freeze was agreed upon and led to Red Bull seeking alternative options.
Given the animosity surrounding its split from Renault in 2019, the French manufacturer was a no-go, while Mercedes had little interest in supplying one of its main rivals, leaving Ferrari as the only other option for Red Bull.
Horner confirmed Ferrari was “the most willing” engine manufacturer to potentially supply Red Bull but stressed the Milton Keynes squad was always against the notion of becoming a customer team.
“The most natural thing was to have a discussion with the existing suppliers,” Horner told the Beyond the Grid podcast.
“Mercedes was a very short conversation and Toto [Wolff, Team Principal] obviously wasn’t particularly keen on that one.
“In fact Renault – their aspirations as a team didn’t include supplying a team like Red Bull, and probably the most willing was Ferrari.
“And, you know, we had some exploratory discussions, but to be a customer, so to have to accept all the integration, particularly with the new regulations coming, would be a massively hard pill to swallow.
“So that’s when we started to explore the possibility: OK, how do we take on this challenge in a Red Bull manner and see if we can put a deal together with Honda in the foreseeable future?
“The freeze was fundamental to that, otherwise we wouldn’t have had the capacity to develop an engine.”
Horner conceded a continuation project using Honda’s IP was “the only call” for Red Bull to remain competitive in the years to come.
Red Bull has poached a number of Mercedes High-Performance Powertrains staff to join its new engine operation, including Ben Hodgkinson, who will lead the programme.
“It’s a big step, it’s a bold step, to take control of our own destiny as an engine supplier and bring the whole lot under one roof in Milton Keynes, it would make us the only team other than Ferrari to have the whole lot within one facility,” Horner added.
“In terms of a sell, I think he [Dietrich Mateschitz, Red Bull owner] reached that conclusion himself – that we had no choice – and Helmut [Marko] was obviously very supportive and pushing hard for it.
“It was absolutely the right call. In reality, for us to remain in a competitive position, it was the only call.”