Red Bull hasn’t always been able to enjoy positive headlines over the past few years, but something that can’t really be questioned is the quality of power unit partners it has been linked with.
Honda left after winning the drivers’ championship, then started showing an interest in returning and retained a link, while Porsche rumors grew to the point that it seemed a deal was on the verge of happening, and then it was called off. But it didn’t take long for Red Bull to finalize a different partnership for 2026 onwards, bringing Ford back into the fold.
The big question after the news was finally made official (leaked in Italian media on Thursday and then drip fed through Ford’s own announcement it was returning and then confirmation of the Red Bull partnership) is why did this one make the most sense?
After all, the Ford deal wasn’t the biggest. Honda’s investment was already impressive but with Porsche there was a willingness to make a major commitment and purchase a stake in the team. But that was something that Red Bull didn’t actually want.
“They are two amazing brands,” Horner told RACER at the Classic Car Club in Manhattan on Friday. “We had some positive discussions with Porsche; in the end it didn’t come to a conclusion, but what we saw from a very early stage with Ford was that there was a genuine desire to do something in a manner that fitted with our own outlook.
“There was no interest in equity, or the direction of steering the technical side of the business. So it was a very straightforward deal — there was a desire from (executive chairman) Bill Ford and (CEO) Jim Farley. I think technically, commercially, it just felt right.
“Ford is such a strong brand, such a powerful brand particularly in the U.S. market, which again is such a key growth market for Formula 1. It just felt like, ‘Do you know what? The stars align with this.’ I think sometimes in life the deals that are the best deals are the easiest and most natural, and this had all of those hallmarks.”
Red Bull is clearly keen to lead the way in the United States. A title sponsorship with Oracle is one such example, while another was the desire to try and put Colton Herta into the AlphaTauri towards the end of last season. So Ford provided a further foothold into the market that it can leverage commercially, but it’s always going to be a two-way street.
From Ford’s point of view, global director for Ford Performance Motorsports Mark Rushbrook says the initial attention-grabber was the direction Formula 1 was taking as a sport, rather than the idea of working with any specific team.
“We’ve watched how the sport has been developing — we watch all the different series — and two years ago when we started hearing from Formula 1 and the FIA about some of the changes they were making for the future, it started to pique our interest,” Rushbrook explains. “We wanted to understand more.
“Some of those things were the commitment to a sustainable fuel for 2026, for the series to be carbon net zero for 2030, and for the power unit — while still staying hybrid, there’s an increased element of electrification in it. So it now gives us a more relevant transfer opportunity, and it’s two-way transfer.
“So we can bring everything that we’re learning about full electric vehicles into the sport to contribute to the performance and the success, but also to learn, to get even better and to bring that back to our road cars. That’s an important pillar in motorsports — we’ve got to have that technology connection.”
But it was the marketing aspect — something Red Bull is pretty handy at — that also played a major part in Ford deciding the time was right to entertain serious discussions and understand the different options to get on the grid.
“The other part as we were watching the sport was seeing how the sport was changing and growing,” Rushbrook adds. “Great product of racing on track, but also with different digital elements like ‘Drive to Survive’ growing the fan base and a more diverse fan base. So now that gives us an opportunity to connect with more people and more relevant future customers that we want to have.
“So at that point we said, ‘OK, we really need to give Formula 1 even more consideration, it makes sense, but now how do we get in?’ There’s limited ways, obviously. There’s only 10 teams at this point, there’s prospective teams coming in, so as we went through 2022 we talked to a lot of different teams — some came to us, we went to some, prospective teams coming to us with what they were trying to put together — really trying to make sure we had the right match.
“But out of all of those, when we talked to Red Bull, it was very clear from the very first discussion that what they wanted in a partner as they were embarking on their program independently for development of a power unit, and what we wanted in terms of what we could bring from a technology perspective — with our resources, with our people, with our knowledge — to complement what they already had, it was really good and interesting to them and it was really good and interesting to us.”
It was interesting to F1 too. Ambitions from Porsche and General Motors has also been widely welcomed, but Ford strengthening an existing team is another endorsement of the direction the sport is heading in. It even led to Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali’s presence in New York this Friday.
The sport moves quickly, though, and long after Horner and Domenicali had left for Teterboro to fly back to London, Rushbrook was still doing interviews and calls to discuss the future that Ford has in mind. Even as a partner to Red Bull’s existing powertrains setup that has seen heavy investment in recent years, Rushbrook knows if Ford wants to succeed it needs to get to work quickly.
“It’s go time. Let’s go!”