How deep will Ford’s F1 involvement go?
NEW YORK. On Friday, Ford announced its return to Formula One as a partner in Red Bull’s nascent powertrain division. The deal will return the iconic Blue Oval to the Formula One grid from 2026, although its F1 participation will remain a step below Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault (through the Alpine brand) and 2026 newcomers Audi.
Since the creation of the powertrain division in 2021, Red Bull has made no secret of its desire to partner with a major OEM. [original equipment manufacturer]. Uncertainty about current F1 involvement with current engine supplier Honda has led the team to take matters into their own hands and commit to building their own engines for the next set of F1 powertrain rules in 2026.
It was a huge move for a team that had previously relied on engine partners like Honda and Renault for one of the car’s most expensive yet performance-sensitive components. If necessary, Red Bull will act alone to secure the future of its powertrain for 2026, but it also recognized the sheer size and cost of starting a project without the backing of a major car manufacturer.
Looking for a powertrain partner, Red Bull was close to a deal with Porsche, but the German manufacturer wanted share and control of the team in return – something Red Bull was unwilling to sacrifice. The deal with Ford, by contrast, would not result in a change in ownership of the team, but significant commercial and technical support would be offered in return. Win-win for Red Bull.
“It’s a very different take on what was discussed with Porsche,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. “This is a purely commercial and technical transaction, so there is no share exchange or business involvement.
“This is a very simple agreement where we will be able to share and access research and development, especially in relation to electric vehicles, as well as sell technology software development and so on.
“Then from a commercial point of view, since Ford is so widespread in the US. As a commercial partner, this helps us achieve even greater penetration in this market.”
From Ford’s point of view, the deal offers a path back to F1 at a time when the sport is booming, without having to invest heavily in an F1-focused factory. It also gives the company a high profile in the sport and – given Red Bull’s recent history in Formula 1 – a clear path to championship success. What’s more, the Red Bull contract runs until 2030, giving Ford time to appreciate the benefits of being in F1, while also offering a clean exit should the company’s priorities change.
In the meantime, Ford is gaining access to a cutting-edge automotive research and development site where it can develop its electric vehicle technology by investing its expertise in the Red Bull F1 hybrid engine element. Under the 2026 rules, the electric element of the propulsion system will produce 50 percent of an F1 car’s power, making it an even more important battleground for manufacturers.
And as an automotive company that remains interested in future combustion engine sales, especially in its home market in the Americas, Ford can also learn from F1’s 2026 transition to sustainable synthetic fuels. Although the idea of efficient hybrid engines running on synthetic fuels is not as fashionable as electric vehicles in the automotive industry, truly clean fuels could still play a huge role in mobility in the coming decades.
“We really did our homework and we wanted to be very practical in our approach,” Ford President and CEO Jim Farley told Sportzshala on Friday in New York. “We didn’t want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on an engine program or even more on our own team.
“In all these years in F1 we have learned that Christian is really good at what he does and in 2026 we will be able to help with the battery, engine and battery management software.”
Ford plans to hire full-time employees at Red Bull’s engine plant starting this year to contribute to the development of the powertrain, which is already in development by 2026 in Milton Keynes. In launching the new partnership in New York, Ford was keen to emphasize that there is so much more to it than just branding.
“We don’t just race as a marketing event, especially in Formula 1,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance. “The stage and the opportunity to get technical training was important to us and without it we wouldn’t have made it.
“Everything is on the table in terms of Ford Motor Company resources and where they are going to add value and benefit. The initial areas that were identified and that we are working on are battery cell technology, the electric motor itself, in the control software – in terms of the most basic software and how it works together to optimize the performance analysis of both the powertrain itself and the entire vehicle. “.
Meanwhile, Ford also wants to study in Red Bull Racing’s own area of expertise: aerodynamics.
“In the world of electric vehicles, aerodynamics is proving to be the most powerful technology opportunity in a car company because you can shrink a battery if you have really good aerodynamics,” Farley added. “And there are no better aeronautical engineers in the world than in Formula 1 and Red Bull. So it’s a real hands-on technology exchange.”
Naturally, Ford will also benefit from the marketing advantages and global presence of Formula One, which remains a key reason for all car manufacturers to get involved in the sport. F1’s popularity is skyrocketing, especially in the United States, and it’s no coincidence that Ford’s return coincides with interest from its historic car rival Cadillac, who are looking to enter F1 with an all-new team run by Andretti Autosport.
“We could see what was happening to the sport itself with its popularity, its growing global fan base and the diversity of that fan base, and we knew this would give us a platform to tell our story as a company about our people and our products. Rushbrook added. “After we saw it coming together and continuing to grow, we started to look at it and say maybe it’s time to get back into F1.
“But you have to get back in the right direction and we took our time to listen to a lot of people. As soon as they knew that Ford was interested in considering F1, many people came forward, be it an existing team or a potential team, to see if there was an opportunity for us to partner with them.
“Initially, none of them seemed right, and returning as a full team of plant owners, as we have done in the past [with Jaguar]felt wrong because we wanted to be very strategic, to contribute where it made sense and also to learn where it made sense.
“It became very clear with Red Bull that what they were looking for in a partner was something we could bring and what we were looking for was something they could bring. Although negotiations started in the second half of 2022, we knew it was the right partnership from the start and then we got into the details and we can announce it today.”