Why did the expected marriage between Red Bull and Porsche finally fall apart, despite the simplification of the engines wanted by the Volkswagen group?
THE JAGUAR PUSH
“To form a couple is to be only one – but which one?”, says a famous English proverb. In the stillborn marriage between Red Bull and Porsche, announced last week, neither party wanted to give up who they were. The union of two perfections, promising on paper, will not have finally passed the stage of the prenuptial examinations.
From the flight of the winged Bull in Formula 1, Christian Horner and Helmut Marko built Red Bull in opposition to what the team was when it belonged to Jaguar, one of whose leaders was surprised, in Detroit, one “certain Mr. Irvine” be paid millions of dollars… Against the bureaucracy inherent in a car manufacturer, the two mavericks have created an agile, reactive structure, based on a very short chain of command despite a workforce of several hundred employees. Benefiting from a great deal of autonomy, Horner and Marko steer their boat without having to report to owner Dieter Mateschitz on a daily basis. Not without success: the winged Bull won four World Championship titles for pilots and constructors from 2010 to 2013.
On the other hand, the following campaigns, marked by the frustration of depending on a V6 hybrid Renault not at the level, reinforced in the two leaders their visceral desire for independence. A conviction further accentuated by the unexpected withdrawal of Honda from Formula 1 a few years later.
On the continent, Porsche obviously obeys another logic, that of large companies. But not always, as far as the competition is concerned. From 2015 to 2017, the 919 Hybrid won three editions of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and three world endurance championships for drivers and constructors. However, the success of this program was very much due to the autonomy enjoyed by the sports department then headed by Andreas Seidl, today at the helm of McLaren F1. Aware of the need for flexibility and responsiveness of a racing team, the promoters of the project had fought to free themselves from the surveillance and interventionism of white collar workers.
Curiously, the board of directors of Porsche seems to have lost sight of what was the management of the 919 project when it took it into its head to buy half of Red Bull Advanced Technologies, the company in charge of the construction of F1 cars. of Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez. Let’s be clear: this offer of a stake was indeed on the table at the start of the discussions led by Mateschitz in person, to entice the manufacturer and, no doubt, to prepare the succession of the boss of Red Bull, aged 87 years old. This scenario had everything to seduce the German manufacturers, anxious to fully benefit from the fallout of a full commitment to F1 rather than harvesting the crumbs of the feast generally left to engine manufacturers.
However, as the negotiations entered into operational details, incompatibilities appeared internally. An entry by Porsche into the capital of Red Bull would have weakened the positions of Horner and Marko. Almighty master in Milton Keynes, the British manager should have been accountable to Stuttgart, while the Austrian adviser should have muzzled his outspokenness, unaccountable with the politically correct communication befitting a Volkswagen group brand.
However, it was not by defending their privileges that the two men convinced Mateschitz to refuse the marriage. ultimately. With Porsche as a shareholder, the reaction time of the team would have been lengthened, the time for the manufacturer to follow its own processes, necessarily longer and more complex. Red Bull is an off-shore, Porsche a cruise ship.
Why modify a well-oiled machine, when the failures of Toyota, BMW and Honda in Formula 1 demonstrate the incompatibility existing between a Grand Prix team and a board of directors?
Encouraged by the progress of the in-house engine developed by Red Bull Powertrains, Horner and Marko persuaded Mateschitz that perhaps they did not absolutely need the know-how of a manufacturer. To develop the 2026 powertrain, dozens of engineers were taken from Mercedes and housed in new buildings adjacent to the chassis factory. A single-cylinder prototype was bench tested before the summer. With regulations simplifying the engine (no more MGU-H), the objective of full or partial self-sufficiency (badged engines) has never been so possible.
… BUT A CHECK WHY NOT?
However, Milton Keynes has yet to develop a battery, which requires quite complex technology and funds. Reason why a strictly commercial partnership is not excluded:
“We have specialists among us who cover all aspects of the powertrain, including electrical and mechanical dimensions, explains Horner. We are on an extraordinary trajectory that does not depend on external involvement or investment if a strategic partner existed, even if this option interests us.”
Porsche, for its part, was keen on this marriage and could not accept the restricted role granted to it by Red Bull. Sign checks and have to manage any conflicts between the spooks Horner and Marko and the managers of Volkswagen? Unthinkable for Stuttgart, forced to reinvent its Grand Prix entry strategy as Audi unveiled its plans and has the infrastructure to build an engine independently. A hard pill to swallow a few months before the IPO of the company, which had not provided for a backup solution in the event of failure of negotiations with Red Bull. In theory, it could get closer to Williams (Jost Capito being a former member of the VW house), or even team up with Andretti (like Formula E), but that seems unlikely.
Unlike Mercedes and Ferrari, Red Bull has no connection with a manufacturer ‒ and does not want to have one. One is a champion of independence or one is not. This is why it is looking for a discreet business partner (like Honda, which would provide the battery), ready to put their hands on the wallet in exchange for visibility.