Red Bull’s search for an engine supplier ahead of the 2016 Formula 1 season has taken another turn after Honda emerged as a serious option on the Friday of the United States Grand Prix weekend.
Despite being just five months away from the first race of the 2016 season, Red Bull is without a firm power unit supplier after expressing a desire to cut ties with current partner Renault following a lacklustre campaign.
Red Bull believed that it could either secure an engine deal with Mercedes or Ferrari for 2016, but neither is comfortable with supplying one of its fiercest rivals a power unit comparable to that of its works teams.
As a result, both of the Red Bull owned teams – Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso – have been left scrambling for an engine supplier for 2016.
Mercedes has ruled out supplying either team, while NBC Sports understands that although a deal for Ferrari to power Toro Rosso is close, negotiations with Red Bull have stalled.
Conducting a massive u-turn and continuing with Renault power units for 2016 remains an option, but the French manufacturer has previously said that it is not looking to have any customer teams next season, so it can instead focus on its works return after taking over Lotus.
As such, the fourth and final F1 engine supplier – Honda – has now emerged as a serious option for Red Bull in 2016.
When asked about a possible deal by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton on Friday, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner remained coy, but admitted that a swift decision is required.
“Of course there’s a lot of speculation,” Horner said. “This week it’s Honda. It was Ferrari last week. Renault before that. There’s a lot of conversation in the background. When we have something concrete you’ll be the first to know.
“Time is pressing on. We do need to come to some decision in the near future. It’s an intense period. All the guys and girls are up for it and up for the challenge.”
Honda returned to the sport in 2015 in partnership with McLaren, but difficulties with its power unit have resigned the British team to one of its worst ever season in F1 with just 19 points to its name.
Given that Red Bull’s split with Renault has come about due to the team’s disappointment with the quality of the power unit, a move to a supplier that has fared even worse in 2015 may appear illogical.
What it will do is offer Red Bull a stop-gap to avoid breaching its commercial contract with F1 while also giving Honda the chance to increase the development of its power unit, given that it will have double the cars to work with.
Regardless of who the engine supplier is, a decision is required in the next week or two as the countdown to the 2016 season continues. There are already doubts about Red Bull’s chances of making the first pre-season test in Barcelona next February, and further delays would only underscore these.