Let us assume for a minute that Red Bull is going to develop its own F1 engines at Milton Keynes. Why would a drinks company do that? It is clearly not a core business and is a wildly expensive thing to do, particularly if it is just to secure a power unit for an F1 team. It makes no sense. But what if Red Bull has decided that it is going to build some sexy sports cars, designed by Adrian Newey, available to very wealthy people? Ferrari did it years ago, McLaren has been doing it in recent years. Williams does design work on cars for clients, and even Sauber seems to have a quiet consultant engineering business… Although in such matters discretion is assured.
When Red Bull first did a deal with Infiniti, four years ago, the team made it clear that it wanted to be recognised as a serious engineering firm away from the racetracks, and intended to use the Infiniti connection to move into road car development.
“At the moment our focus is on being a Formula 1 constructor,” Christian Horner told Autocar recently, “but as we see more technology cross over with the road car market, it’s something that will organically grow.
“It’s a natural evolution for us to get involved in road car engineering.”
In recent months there has been a lot of talk of Newey designing a road car for Aston Martin, but that seems to have gone rather quiet of late. However, the car industry is changing and the barriers for entry into the business have come down significantly, notably with the recent introduction of Gordon Murray’s iStream manufacturing techniques, which mean that production costs on small-run exotic cars have dropped significantly. If one looks at the recent months one can see TVR using iStream to make a comeback and last week at the Tokyo Motor Show, a Yamaha sportscar popped up, with iStream involved in that programme as well. If one can manufacture cost-effective chassis and you have an ace designer, the only thing that a budding sports car company needs these days is an engine. There is some logic, therefore, in licensing an internal combustion engine from an existing manufacturer and then making it your own. If you go back in history you will find that huge companies such as Opel and Alfa Romeo both began life using Darracq engines and there are many other examples. The key ingredient is money.
Red Bull has plenty of cash and so a bespoke engine is not a daft idea, as there is a sub-contractor (Mecachrome) happy to sell as many units as are required. Today’s F1 engines are complex, but the various recovery units can be built by different suppliers.
Red Bull is already more than a drinks company: it owns sports teams, venues and events. It runs its own media agency, dealing in TV rights and content creation. The business makes money and helps to expand the Red Bull brand. So why not a car? Richard Branson has shown that a brand does not need to relate to only one product. Virgin stands for quirky innovation that redefines the way businesses deal with customers. It is such a powerful brand that entrepreneurs will give Virgin equity in exchange for the right to use the name. Others have tried similar ideas: Vijay Mallya, for example, started an airline because he thought he could make a success of it, while at the same time, using the Kingfisher name to help sell the beer that has the same name.
Marketing such a car would be easy… and, as Ferrari has shown, if you have the muscle, an F1 team can be completely free AND be advertising for your automobiles.