Aston Martin is understood to be in talks to return to Formula One as a brand partner with Red Bull Racing, as reported by Autocar and sister publication Autosport on Saturday. Such a deal could open the way for Red Bull to use Mercedes engines.
This would be a massively complicated jigsaw to piece together, so let’s deal with the connections first. Mercedes owns five per cent of Aston Martin. Aston Martin would replace Infiniti as Red Bull’s title sponsor; Infiniti is the luxury arm Nissan, part of the Nissan-Renault Alliance; Renault currently supplies engines to Red Bull. Aston Martin boss Andy Palmer – who joined in December last year – set up the Infiniti deal when he was in charge of Nissan.
All the parties involved reacted differently to the report. Some initially completely refuted them, then toned down their statements. Other were more open to the idea. For its part, Aston Martin simply said “no comment.”
There are many barriers to such a deal being done. Not least of which is that Red Bull has contracts with both Infiniti and Renault until the end of 2016. However, Red Bull management has heavily criticised the current Renault engine, which is massively down on power compared to the leading Mercedes power unit and even the Ferrari motor. Team owner Dietrich Mateschitz has gone so far as threatening to quit F1 if the squad can’t get hold of a more competitive engine.
Even if Red Bull could buy its way out of those contracts, an Aston Martin/Mercedes deal would still have to be approved by the Mercedes board. According to Autocar, the board would take the Mercedes F1 management’s opinions into account, and they aren’t likely to be too happy about one of their main rivals running the same engine. Though it wasn’t much of a problem when McLaren and latterly Williams used them.
But the board’s decision will ultimately be an economic one – supplying another team would spread the immense engine development costs across a wider base. It may become particularly pertinent as, with or without this deal, Renault is rumoured be considering buying an existing team to run as the factory outfit. That could be ‘The Enstone Team’, formerly the works Renault squad but now the Mercedes-powered Lotus team.
That’s just a very brief summary of what appears to be happening. No doubt there will be many reports – with or without much substance – over the coming months. No-one who could directly influence the deal seems to be denying the possibility outright. But equally there’s at least as big a possibility that it won’t happen. We will only know for sure if the deal is ever officially announced.
Aston Martin hasn’t been involved in F1 since it nixed the disastrous DBR4/DBR5 project that ran in 1959 and 1960. The car was doomed from the start, with the engine at the front at a time when everyone else was switching to a rear-engined layout; and a chassis based on the ancient DB3S sports racer. The car managed a best finish of second in the non-championship International Trophy at Silverstone.