The big news from Red Bull’s New York season launch event was that they will be hooking up American car giant Ford to develop a new-for-2026 F1 power unit.
The initial deal will see both Red Bull and AlphaTauri race with the new engines for at least five seasons up until 2030.
Ford haven’t raced in F1 for almost two decades, so why have they decided to return to the motorsport now? And why with Red Bull?
Mark Rushbrook, Global Director of Ford Performance Motorsports, explained that the new, more sustainable direction F1 is taking was key to their decision – as was the growing popularity of the sport across the globe, and specifically in Ford’s home market in America.
“[Ford’s interest] started two-plus years ago, when we started to see and understand what the future of the sport was with the technology changes, the commitment to sustainable fuels, the net carbon zero and the change to the technical regulations to make electrification an even bigger component of the hybrid power unit,” he said.
“That became of interest to us, [because] we knew we could contribute something technically, but also continue to learn in those areas.
“In parallel to that, we saw what was happening to the sport itself, with the popularity, the growing global fanbase, and diversity of that fanbase, [which] would then give us a platform to tell our story.
“As we saw that really coming together and continuing to grow, we started [to think], ‘Okay, this is looking like maybe it’s the right time to get back into F1.’”
Having previously run their own team – the ill-fated Jaguar Racing – as well as been engine supplier to other outfits including Benetton and McLaren, Rushbrook said they took their time evaluating how they would make their F1 comeback.
“You’ve got to come back in the right way,” he said. “As soon as [people] knew Ford had some interest, a lot of people came forward, whether it was an existing team or prospective teams to see if there was an opportunity for us to partner with them.
“We approached some teams, but initially none of them seemed right. Coming back in as a full factory… owning a team, as we’ve done in the past, also didn’t feel right. We wanted to come in very strategically, to contribute where it made sense, and also learn where it made sense.”
Rushbrook says the deal to partner with Red Bull fulfilled that requirement.
“With Red Bull, it was quickly apparent that what they were looking for in a partner is something we could bring, and what we were looking for in a partner is something they could bring.
“While that started, I’ll say the latter half of 2022, it went very quickly, in the sense that we knew it was the right partnership from the very beginning. We had more discussions to get into more detail, and here we are today, able to announce it.
“But to us, it’s very important to come into the sport at the right time, and in the right way with the right partner, and we believe we’re doing that on both counts.”
Red Bull had already begun spinning up their own Red Bull Powertrains engine facility in Milton Keynes, and Rushbrook confirmed that will stay as the main base of operations for the project – but added that Ford will bring the full might of their resources to bear as well.
“There’s a great foundation in Milton Keynes with the Red Bull campus,” he said. “There were already plans under way to have a building for powertrains there, with the dynos, to house the team to build the power units, and that is still the plan to have that as the cornerstone of the power unit programme.
“Everything is on the table, in terms of resources from Ford Motor Company to contribute to this, where it’s going to add value and benefit. The initial areas that have been identified, where we’re working, are certainly in the battery cell technology, in electric motor itself, the controls, software.
“I certainly expect that we will have employees located full-time in Milton Keynes, but not yet, at this point.”
The new power units will be badged as Red Bull Ford – and Rushbrook said it was key for the American firm to really be a part of a development process.
“One hundred per cent, we needed to have that. We don’t go racing just as a marketing exercise, anywhere, and especially in F1.”
Nonetheless the marketing dividend could be huge for the Blue Oval, especially considering the sport’s growth in the US, where this year there will be three Grands Prix, Las Vegas joining the existing races at Austin and Miami.
“[The US growth] certainly helps,” Rushbrook conceded. “As we’ve said, it was that combination of the technology, and the opportunity for two-way transfer. It was the opportunity for marketing, and connection with diverse fans globally, but yes, the specific growth in the US certainly contributed to that – but it wasn’t the only reason [for Ford’s return].
“And it is great to see more races in the United States, and three very different races in three different parts of the country. I was at COTA last year and it was fantastic.
“I hadn’t been there for races before. It was a fantastic atmosphere and feel, and the number of fans there, and the passion of those fans – it is important for us to be part of it.”