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By Alan Baldwin
LONDON, June 19 (Reuters) - Red Bull’s two-year Formula One engine deal with Honda from 2019, announced finally on Tuesday, has as much potential risk as reward for the former world champions.
On the plus side, Red Bull will be effectively a manufacturer ‘works’ team for the first time in their history — Honda’s only other outfit being Red Bull-owned junior team Toro Rosso — even if still customers.
That should reduce running costs for the energy drink brand, with Honda said to be bringing $100 million a year to McLaren before the end of that failed partnership in 2017, and provide a clear focus.
The new partnership with a top three team gives the Japanese manufacturer the chance to rebuild its standing in the sport, a process that has already started with a more competitive — if still unreliable — engine this year.
“We feel that we will have to live up to their high expectations, but can see their respect for us, and we will put everything we have into the development for next season,” commented Honda’s motorsport head Masashi Yamamoto.
Red Bull have used Cosworth, Ferrari and Renault engines in the past without ever having a major manufacturer focused solely on their two teams.
With Renault they won 47 races and eight titles — four drivers’ and constructors’ — in the V8 era but the relationship soured in the V6 turbo hybrid era dominated by Mercedes while the French carmaker is also rebuilding its own works team.
Red Bull’s options were effectively only ever staying with Renault or switching to Honda, with Mercedes and Ferrari having no interest in supplying a championship rival.
The Renault engine, while a winner twice already this season with Australian Daniel Ricciardo, is still down on power and unreliable — as is the Honda.
The downside for Red Bull is that, while Honda have made big progress, they are not yet in the same league as the frontrunning engines.
The gamble is that Honda can close the gap, given the current stability of engine rules.
The fact that Red Bull have announced only a two-year deal is significant, with changes in the pipeline potentially opening the door for other engine manufacturers to enter the sport in 2021.
How it affects Ricciardo remains to be seen, with the Australian out of contract at the end of the year and considering his options.
But the 28-year-old, one of the most popular and exciting drivers, may ultimately not have much of choice.
Although linked in media speculation to Mercedes and Ferrari, who both have potential vacancies, neither has evinced much interest.
McLaren, now with Renault engines, could be another possibility if double world champion Fernando Alonso, a winner at Le Mans on Sunday, ramps up his quest for the ‘Triple Crown of Motorsport and heads for IndyCars and the Indianapolis 500. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin Editing by Keith Weir)