Helmut Marko described the situation as “tense” as Red Bull prepare to officially sever ties with engine provider Honda.
After a disastrous few years as a Renault customer, which left team principal Christian Horner almost tearing his hair out, Red Bull signed a deal with Honda ahead of the 2018 season that would see them supply engines for Toro Rosso in the first season before doing the same for both teams from 2019 onwards.
The move was part of the Japanese supplier’s fourth era in F1 having previously supplied the likes of McLaren and their own works team in earlier decades but the preceding years with McLaren were so frustrating, veteran Fernando Alonso was pushed to the edge of retirement.
Despite struggling with McLaren, the Honda engine proved far more reliable for Toro Rosso and Pierre Gasly achieved Honda’s best result since returning to the sport with a P4 in Bahrain.
This laid the foundation for which Red Bull could build a car that would one day bring them the Drivers’ Championship.
The 2021 season was historic for Red Bull not only for Max Verstappen’s title win but also because Honda had informed them they would be leaving the sport again at the end of the campaign.
Initially the deal was Honda would walk away entirely, meaning Red Bull would be forced to become another supplier’s customer, but a deal was eventually brokered to allow the Milton Keynes based constructor to build their own power unit division.
The 2022 season acted as a halfway house as Honda provided support as Red Bull Powertrains got up and running before the Japanese brand’s logo returned to the livery at the Japanese Grand Prix onwards. This signalled a strengthening of the partnership and Honda will remain a supplier until 2026 with the engine branded a product of Honda RBPT.
But with Red Bull set to become self-sufficient in 2026, Honda are looking for a new partner as they again debate returning to Formula 1.
Marko described the current situation as a “tense” one and said that a decision would soon be made on the two parties’ relationship going forwards.
“It’s a tense situation that has a history,” he told Auto Motor und Sport. “When Honda announced its withdrawal two years ago, we would have had nothing at all in the first phase. Honda didn’t even want to supply the existing engine. We were able to gradually transform that into a cooperation as we see it today.
“At the same time, to safeguard the future, we set up our own engine plant, which is state of the art with the latest test benches and measuring instruments from AVL in a newly built factory. In Sakura we have the same from Honda.
“When it came to deciding who would do what from 2026, things got difficult. It was planned that Honda would only do the electrical part, but we didn’t come to a common denominator. But let’s see. A decision will be made soon.”
On the potential of a new partner for 2026, Marko said “Let’s wait and see.”
Who will supply engines in 2026?
With a new wave of regulations, which among other things will significantly reduce the cost of supplying power units, many famous brands have decided to get a piece of the F1 gold mine.
Here are the confirmed and rumoured suppliers that will be building engines for 2026 and beyond:
Mercedes – The Silver Arrows will again provide engines for the 2026 season from their base in Brixworth, Northamptonshire. Mercedes first joined the sport as a supplier in 1994 as partners with the British company Ilmor but would acquire them later on.
Rebranded as Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains, they supplied Sauber for one season, then switched to McLaren in 1995 for a 20-year partnership. In 2009, Mercedes supplied Brawn GP who they would later acquire to become their own works team.
As of 2022, they were the most popular supplier with Aston Martin, McLaren, Williams and themselves all using engines built in Brixworth.
Ferrari – Just as they are the only team to have competed in every season of Formula 1, Ferrari are the only engine supplier to have featured in every campaign and will do so again 2026.
Over the years, they have supplied the likes of Minardi, Sauber, Red Bull Racing, Force India and Marussia. In 2022, they supplied themselves as well as Haas and Alfa Romeo although the 066/7 1.6 V6 t proved temperamental when it came to reliability.
Renault – Renault began manufacturing Formula 1 engines in 1976 but following a disastrous period with Red Bull, who complained of a lack of performance and agreed an early contract termination, their stock fell dramatically.
As of 2022, Alpine (Renault’s works team) are the only one to use the French engines but Renault will be on the grid in 2026.
Red Bull Powertrains – Facing the loss of Honda as their engine supplier, Red Bull opted to become a fully independent team by building their own power unit division, Red Bull Powertrains.
Work is underway to get the division up and running for the 2026 season with a new base being built at their Milton Keynes site. The 2022 to 2025 seasons will see the team work with Honda to produce an engine that will be called Honda RBPT.
Audi – Alongside Porsche, Audi were confirmed to be entering Formula 1 earlier this year when the then-VW CEO said that was the plan for two of their biggest brands.
Things have been a little easier for the four ringed constructor than they have for Porsche with Audi first confirming their spot as an engine supplier in August before agreeing a partnership with Sauber in October for their own team.
Porsche – Audi’s plan may be in full flow but Porsche’s has hit stumbling block after stumbling block. After a deal with Red Bull collapsed in the final stages due to a disagreement over control, Porsche again find themselves looking for a partner to pursue their F1 venture with.
When their arrival into the sport was initially announced, they were said to be keen on joining as an engine supplier but given the setbacks, it remains to be seen whether they will instead join as a customer constructor.
Honda – A change in management has made Honda rethink their strategy when it comes to F1 with the Japanese company rumoured to wanting a return to the pinnacle of motor racing. Given it is unlikely they will create their own works team, it is likely they will provide engines to customer teams with McLaren rumoured to be among the interested parties.