The domino effect of the McLaren-Honda split has had a massive impact on Renault-supplied teams, particularly Red Bull and Toro Rosso.
It has emerged that Toro Rosso will be the likely team to give Honda a second chance in F1, and the knock-on effect of this will be Renault leaving the senior Red Bull team after the 2018 season. It is impossible to interpret this scenario as good or bad given that we don’t know where next year’s power units will be in terms of relative performance.
One certainty is that both Honda and Renault have struggled this season. Both engine manufacturers have collectively cost over 100 grid-place penalties to the teams they supply with pre-race power unit component changes. Meanwhile, Mercedes and Ferrari powered teams have incurred no such penalty all season. This makes both engine exchanges risky.
If Honda shows no signs of improvement next season with Toro Rosso and Red Bull are forced to take on the Japanese manufacturer in their post-Renault era, drivers of the Ricciardo and Verstappen calibre aren’t going to drive for them. Ricciardo has already made comments this week that Red Bull need to give him a title-challenger next season to keep him on the team. This Renault termination isn’t a variable in this statement, because even if the Milton Keynes squad and French manufacturer give the Aussie his wish next season, the partnership could still split the following year.
The partnership hasn’t always been rocky between Red Bull and Renault. The 2010-2013 seasons were dominated by the partnership, and Red Bull have claimed 18% of Renault-powered victories in Formula One history, with 30 Grand Prix wins.
But it has been this new engine regulation era in which the partnership has consistently fallen short of Mercedes and Ferrari. There has been criticism between both parties publicly and it looks like this alignment between Red Bull’s junior team and another power unit supplier is the final straw. Renault have also nicked the Red Bull protégé Carlos Sainz for good measure, could the cut be any clearer?
Public criticism from Christian Horner reached its pinnacle in 2015 at the season opener in Melbourne. Despite it being a race of attrition in which only eleven cars finished, the Red Bull team principal reinforced the stance against Renault.
“Since the power unit regulation change, it’s a very different world that we’re living in.
There’s really only two engines out there that you can compete for grand prix victories with and, unfortunately, Renault have fallen behind that. It looks like it’s going to be at least two to three years before they can be in a position to compete again.”
– Christian Horner speaking in 2015
The landscape hasn’t really changed since. Whilst Red Bull have managed to register the occasional win, this has only happened when the teams above them have tripped up or got it wrong. But if the truth of the matter is that Red Bull will be forced to use Honda power in 2019 or another supplier, then it can only be framed as progressive as much as it perpetuates uncertainty. An improvement? A magical crystal ball is required for that, but this news definitely adds interest to the incoming Toro Rosso-Honda performance levels next season.