So, let's have a quick recap...
Red Bull win 4 consecutive titles with their engine partner Renault 2010-2013, along the way they have a fair few squabbles, especially surrounding the quality of certain components they supply, such as alternators. Furthermore, they continue to openly admit (via the media) that they are short on horsepower compared to Mercedes and Ferrari. Red Bull's 2009 challenger the RB5 didn't run KERS although they briefly tested it in pre-season testing, having adapted a system in-house. Newey/Marshall et al decided that the system would compromise the cars balance whilst also having an impact on aero and as their closest rival BrawnGP was without it, they too would give it a miss.
The unified stance of FOTA in 2010 meant that KERS was off the menu, as teams went off to refine the concept for a return in 2011. For Red Bull this was seen as an opportunity to design their own package from the ground up, giving them an advantage over the factory Renault team and allowing them to package it how they saw fit. They were plagued with problems in the early stages, with the batteries unconventionally mounted around the gearbox, rather than under the drivers seat. For Red Bull this was a solution to the problem of balance they sought and refined the concept in 2012, explained here by Scarbs: https://scarbsf1.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/red-bull-kers-floor-mounted-super-capacitors/
However, the new regulations were designed in order to change this, with ERS to be supplied by the manufacturer only, the intent of which was to reduce costs. Furthermore, the 'Energy Stores' placement and weight are mandated by the FIA technical regulations, reducing the scope for teams to come up with radical solutions in any case.
We all know how critical Red Bull have been of Renault since we entered the hybrid era in 2014, the problem is, have Red Bull been as much to blame? From the outset it is my understanding that Red Bull had another Energy Store they had developed in-house to use for 2014 that they would use, effectively forcing Toro Rosso, Lotus and Caterham to do the same if the homologation procedure was to be adhered to. However, when they arrived at pre-season testing all was not well with said ES and they had to revert to the Renault designed ES (remember those pesky cooling issues they had). The one thing that still irks me about 2014 is that all the Renault powered teams got around the homologation process, as they ran differing exhaust configurations.
Red Bull understood pretty earlier on that Renault had made an error in judgement in terms of the development of the powerunit, especially when compared with Mercedes. As such they fast tracked their own solution, recruiting and placing engineers at Viry. They also championed Cyril Abiteboul, as he returned to Renault Sport F1 as managing director, in the face of Caterham's demise. This led to a restructuring and fresh eyes on the challenge at hand, with Red Bull and Renualt formulating another plan, which involved Mario Illien and his team at Ilmor. Concern had grew throughout 2014 as the Renault powerunit clearly suffered from knock, which would ordinarily resolved by a redesign of the injection and combustion process. However the inclusion of the MGU-H only further compounds the problem, changing the way in which it occurs, leaving several pathways to a resolution. Some of the issues were mitigated by heavy development on the fuel side by Total too but, this may have only masked some of their inefficiencies.
As 2015 approached Renault and Red Bull continued to invest, taking their dyno count to 24 and improving their processes surrounding the testing of batteries. Furthermore, personnel from Porsche and Ferrari were recruited as the desire to close the gap to their rivals intensified. However, as pre-season testing for 2015 got underway it was clear that Renault hadn't made the kind of progress that Red Bull was expecting, fortunately they still had a large cache of development tokens at their disposal and were investigating several development avenues. The relaxation of the homologation deadline by the FIA following Red Bull and Ferrari's protests meant that any tokens not used prior to the intended February 28th deadline could be used during the season.
The specification of powerunit used at pre-season testing would be a very different one to the one to be used at the opening round at Albert Park but once again Red Bull pressed Renault for more, fast tracking a powerunit specification that for all intents and purposes wasn't ready. Not fully validated it was a risk, one that would put the trackside engineers on the back foot too and risked premature damage. As the season began to unfold it was clear that Renault were still at sea and far from a cohesive unit, meanwhile Ilmor would engage with Renault at Viry and began developing a plan in parallel with Renaults. Having come to the conclusion that the original I.C.E developed by Renault was flawed Ilmor set about developing a prototype to prove their findings. Although Renault were impressed by Ilmors findings it wasn't expected that they'd be adopted..
“It is good to work with people outside, because there is no way you can improve inside if you do not put yourself in competition but also in partnership with people that are outside. So first – it is good to get an external look, and support and feedback.
“But right now in our current engine, or the engine that is coming, there is nothing which is coming from Ilmor.” - Cyril Abiteboul
Renault and Ilmor continued to work in tandem, with Ilmor continuing to work on a parallel development of the Renault powerunit as the pair assess the best way to approach 2016. However, Renaults reluctance to accept Ilmor's opposing design, the very public outcry from Red Bull on Renualts dismal performance and the potential acquisition of Lotus by Renault culminated in Red Bull seeking another powerunit supplier for 2016, even though their contract was in place until 2017. Courting both Mercedes and Ferrari, Red Bull began to cut ties with Renault, Infiniti and Total but as we now know, they weren't able to broker a deal with either. Unable to find a powerunit for 2016 they even tapped up Honda and even though they were keen it seems Ron Dennis put pay to any negotiations before they began. Afterall, even with currently the worst powerunit on the grid why would he want to give Red Bull the opportunity to beat McLaren should the Japanese marquee be able to turn things around. In any case it's probably a good thing that those two worlds didn't collide as Honda remain reluctant to take influence from outside sources and Red Bull cannot help themselves in that respect.
Whilst all these negotiations were ongoing Red Bull had an ace in the hole but, it would need some manipulation from a certain pint-sized F1 supremo... Whilst the original powerunits IP (Intellectual Property) would be deemed as Renault's there is no mistaking the influence that Red Bull have had on the development of the powerunit since, with aggressive investment made. Who then owns the Renault powerunit IP? In the eyes of the FIA it was Renault who've homologated it and as such are the only ones who can use the powerunit. However, what if Mr Ecclestone was to sit down with Mr Todt and propose that Renault and Red Bull will now be parting ways, but in order to retain the latter they will use a very similar powerunit that'll diverge in specification over the course of the homologation period (2020). Todt would know that Mercedes are now at the four team supply capacity (Mercedes, Williams, Force India and Manor), Ferrari are close (Ferrari, Sauber, Haas and most likely Toro Rosso taking them to the fourth) and Honda have a gentleman's agreement with McLaren.
It could be argued that F1 survived well before Red Bull and could do so long after, however, from a commercial aspect they are an asset that the sport cannot really afford to lose. As such the FIA will allow a dual programme to be established with Renault going in one direction with the acquisition of Lotus, Red Bull will forge another path with Ilmor, making the requisite changes to the I.C.E's combustion and injection elements that Ilmor require, whilst also designing and developing their own turbo configuration and ERS. As the powerunit will essentially be classed as being designed by another manufacturer they'll be free to spend their development tokens on their own terms, free of Renaults influence. Furthermore, the change in the rules that was introduced to assist Honda this season, enabling the use of 5 complete powerunits, rather than 4 per driver as the second year teams had, should carry over too.
As a sweetner I'd also propose that Red Bull / Ilmor have floated the idea that they'll develop the lower cost 2.2 litre V6 turbocharged engine that Bernie and Jean are looking for. This may be a canny move from Red Bull as not only will they control the destiny of a spec style engine, financially it can assist with their own powerunit development programme. Surely it's going to cost money to develop this new 2.2 V6 I hear you say and undoubtedly it will, however, Ilmor has plenty of experience especially as their 2.2 V6 powers half the Indycar field via Chevy.
Whilst Bernie and the FIA might have needed convincing so too would Renault, however, from a legal standing the powerunit became an alliance the moment Red Bull started shuffling people and money through Viry's doors, something I'm sure Red Bull's lawyers could easily deal with if needed. The sweetner for Renault is that the Red Bull / Ilmor offspring will now be rebadged as a brand from the Nissan Alliance, most probably a continuation of the Infiniti brand. Although I have more than a sneaky suspicion that had the VW emissions crisis not played out the way it did we could have seen a very different outcome... One thing that isn't yet clear though is who'll provide the fuel and lubricants, but I'm sure Red Bull can patch things up with Total if they haven't already.
You might be wondering why I'm giving this history lesson and/or discussing the viability of a Red Bull powerunit, as they've previously denied they would undertake such a project. However it seems it is now more than plausible....
#TJ13 Exclusive: Red Bull secure an #F1 engine for 2016 https://t.co/RCF7GOGddg https://t.co/d6hk6nhvof pic.twitter.com/wAnLQ1uyhA
— TheJudge13 (@thejudge13) November 5, 2015
The Judge is usually very accurate when it comes to stories emanating from Milton Keynes and to be fair as I've already shown it actually makes perfect sense. The only unknown quantity for me now is Toro Rosso, however I firmly believe they'll run a year old Ferrari unit for 2016, giving Red Bull a year in which to ready themselves to power both their teams and potentially a few more....
EDIT: Please continue to read the comments section of this article, some interesting points have been raised and I have answered what I can. Please feel free to add your own comments/questions and I'll answer what I can.