Never change a winning team, as the old saying goes. Mercedes have been holding on to Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas for years, and in 2021 they will be hunting for their eighth consecutive world title. The foundation of these titles is the supreme hybrid engine, which has long been the benchmark for the German car manufacturer whose Formula 1 team is based in Britain.
These engines will be used through to 2024, after which there will be a switch to a new generation of Formula 1 power units. Exactly what these will look like is not known at present, but as soon as it is, the engine manufacturers will shift their focus to the development of the new power source.
Currently, there are four engine suppliers in Formula 1. Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Honda. At the end of this year Honda, who supply engines to Red Bull and AlphaTauri, will leave the sport. According to the management of the Japanese carmaker, Formula 1 no longer fitted in the picture of the company, with their aim to operate climate-neutrally from 2050.
The other three engine suppliers, who all have their own Formula 1 team, will most likely not leave the sport in the coming years, but the call for a new engine became louder with Honda's decision. Wanting to prevent other engine suppliers from following the Japanese company's example while attracting new suppliers, the sport's new engine rules were brought forward from 2026 to 2025.
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Red Bull's departure from Honda therefore seemed to suggest they would need to rely on Renault, Mercedes or Ferrari again, as a new engine supplier would not enter the sport on such short notice. The team had no desire to become a customer team, as the Austrian outfit noticed the enormous benefits of working with Honda.
And so Red Bull pushed ahead and called for a freeze on engine development, so that less money could be spent in the coming years and the team could keep their current engine. This was granted, and so after 2022 Red Bull can continue with Honda engines.
They will not be further developed, but they will be maintained. Red Bull Powertrains, Red Bull's engine division, has been set up for this purpose and a whole new factory will be built in Milton Keynes. At the same time, the all-new engine for 2025 will be worked on there in the coming years.
Red Bull have big plans and this week they announced the first big name to lead that project as technical director. It was none other than Ben Hodgkinson, who makes the switch from Mercedes. It will not have escaped many people's notice, because there has been a lot of interest about the transfer in recent days.
Mercedes are not very happy about it and are working against Red Bull as much as possible, so Hodgkinson will not be able to start his new challenge until as late as possible. Toto Wolff's team will have to hire some more lawyers in the future, as more staff will be walking away.
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Close to home
Helmut Marko confirmed this on Tuesday morning and RacingNews365 also understands that after Hodgkinson at least four other relatively big names will make the switch from the Mercedes engine department to Red Bull. There are several reasons why so many people are willing to 'defect' to the new engine department of Mercedes' rival.
Firstly, Red Bull is of course embarking on a new project, for which it is useful to have experienced staff. The team is investing a lot of money in the new facilities, so big investments will not be avoided in terms of personnel either.
The engine department is not under the same umbrella as the team, so the money spent there is not under the budget cap. Currently, Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz has an almost unlimited amount of money to pump into the engine department which is currently being built up.
And where do Red Bull get staff with experience of building Formula 1 engines? Britain, of course. Which team also has its engine factory near Milton Keynes? Mercedes of course, while Ferrari and Renault are based in Maranello and Paris respectively.
The distance between Mercedes' engine factory and Red Bull's factory? Only 50 kilometres. Employees therefore do not have to start a new life when they make the switch and the threshold will be quite low. Children can just keep going to the same school, staff don't have to move. Only loyalty can actually stop the Mercedes staff.
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Budget cap approaching
Last but not least, the engine suppliers are also facing a budget cap, which is a significant reason why Mercedes staff do not mind making the switch.
The decision has not yet been made, but there is general agreement that the cost of engines has risen dramatically in recent years. Behind the scenes, a budget cap plan similar to the one that was introduced for the teams this year is already being worked on.
Before the new engine formula is introduced in 2025, there will be a spending limit to ensure that hundreds of millions are not spent each year in the run-up to the introduction of the new engine formula. At the moment this is not possible, because the specification of the new formula is not yet known.
Moreover, this upcoming budget cap will undoubtedly mean that Mercedes will have to make cuts to the engine staff. Why would the staff wait until they are potentially laid off, knowing that the employer will have to make cuts, when they could also take on a new project and have a job guarantee with Red Bull for the next few years?
All in all, besides the job, a fierce battle seems to be unfolding between Red Bull and Mercedes. Actually, Mercedes can only lose in this battle, because Red Bull have nothing to lose (yet) on the engine front. Until the end of this year they can still rely on Honda personnel, and after that they will take over some Japanese staff from the engine supplier, who will help with the maintenance of the current engines in the years to come.
At the same time, the new staff - a handful of whom will undoubtedly come from Mercedes - will be working hard on the brand new engine. So Red Bull's future looks bright in that respect, while Toto Wolff's team will see some staff leave in the near future.