Get ready. Ford Motor Company has announced its historic return to the richest, most technologically advanced and popular form of racing on the planet: Formula 1. The company will partner with Red Bull Racing, the drivers’ and manufacturers’ champions from last year, to build together the hybrid engine of 2026, when the new regulations come into force.
Decades have passed since Ford’s glory years as an engine manufacturer. The last time a driver took the championship with a Ford engine was 1994, when Michael Schumacher did it with Benetton. And Ford has been involved in the sport since 2004, when it owned the Jaguar team.
«After a 22-year absence, Ford returns to Formula 1,” Ford Motorsport director Mark Rushbrook told R&T. “We will compete from 2026 to 2030. We will enter the sport through our partnership with our new strategic partner, Red Bull Racing, namely Red Bull Powertrains, which will be renamed Red Bull-Ford Powertrains. We will be their partner in the development of their new power unit.»
The Red Bull-Ford engines will power both Red Bull cars and sister team AlphaTauri, so the aim is to have them in four cars by 2026. The team will design and build the new hybrid engines in Milton Keynes, headquarters of Red Bull, in Great Britain.
Ford’s announcement comes at a time when F1’s popularity is growing rapidly worldwide. Apart from the World Cup, no other form of sport reaches such a large audience and on every continent. In other words, everywhere Ford sells cars. F1 has seen its audience increase mainly in the US. The line “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” on Netflix has become an element of pop culture, and for the first time in 2023 three GPs will be held in America (in Miami, Austin and Las Vegas). For years until 2012 and the first race at the Circuit of the Americas, F1 did not race in the US.
In addition, the new engine regulations provide an opportunity for a fresh start and a balance in the power distribution, while there is an emphasis on sustainability, electrification and cost containment. The new regulations put F1 and Ford (and other manufacturers) on the same page when it comes to vehicle development going forward.
The new regulations dictate the use of hybrid power units with a 1.6-liter turbocharged V6 engine that will emit zero emissions. According to Formula 1, carbon in fuel “it will come from non-edible sources, waste or even the atmosphere». The hybrid engines of 2026 will have three times the electric power compared to now, while their total performance will reach 1000 PS. In fact, the goal is to use 70 kg of fuel per race. That’s less than half of what they used in 2013. And it all comes down to providing a perfect challenge for the engineers, and a laboratory on the track to test innovations that will later be found in passenger vehicles.
And Ford is not the only American company that is getting involved in the sport. Andretti Global, led by Michael Andretti, and General Motors, through Cadillac, have announced their intention to enter the sport, with a new team based in the US. The point is that F1 still hasn’t said whether Andretti-Cadillac will be on the grid. However, last Thursday, the FIA officially opened the application process for prospective teams. “The growth and appeal of the Formula 1 World Championship is at unprecedented heights,” said FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem. “The FIA believes that the conditions are right for those interested to express their intention to enter the championship, provided they meet the required criteria.” It is clear that F1 is in a perfect state to invest in, especially in the US.
«We’re looking at the case of Formula 1, we’ve been looking at what’s been happening over the last few years as the regulations have been shaped and the sport has grown, and we’ve looked at how we could get involved again,” Rushbrook explained. “It’s a very good time to get in now.”
Red Bull’s current powertrain partner is Honda, and will be until 2025. The team has established Red Bull Powertrains to fill the void left by Honda, “bringing the power unit section to our ‘home’,’ as the head of the team, Christian Horner, pointed out. According to the company, Ford will contribute to battery cell technology, the electric motor, and software for the engine and data, along with other areas that have yet to be determined.
«We can offer a lot in the technology field,” Rushbrook said. “And while we offer what we already know, we’ll also learn more, which we can then apply to our future passenger EVs.»
Ford is investing heavily in global motorsport under the leadership of CEO Jim Farley, especially with the next-generation Mustang hitting dealerships next summer. And the Mustang brand will compete in NASCAR, NHRA, Australian Supercars, and even Le Mans as a GT3. The Ford Bronco competes in Baia and other off-road races, and took the podium at the King of Hammers Ultra4 race in southern California a year ago.
The company’s current racing program is quite reminiscent of Ford’s Total Performance in the 1960s, when the company promoted the Mustang and with globalization found new markets, especially in Europe, to sell its vehicles. In 1963, CEO Henry Ford II announced that he was putting the family business into racing. “We’re going in with the punches,” he had characteristically declared to reporters. Somehow, cars with Ford engines won races in NASCAR, the Indy 500 with Lotus, and Le Mans, beating Ferrari from 1966 to 1970.
A large part of Total Performance’s investment was in Formula 1. The company made its debut as an engine manufacturer with the DFV, produced in partnership with Cosworth, in the 1967 Dutch Grand Prix. Jim Clark took victory in a Ford-Cosworth Lotus 49. The Ford-Cosworth DFV would take further victories, more than any other engine, even to this day, taking 155 firsts from 1967 to 1983. Single-seaters powered by Fords took 13 drivers’ titles, starting with Graham Hill in 1968 and ending with Michael Schumacher in 1994. A big part of Ford’s investment in those years was promoting the Mustang – which is still true now.
«Our return to Formula 1 is part of our motorsport strategy that makes Mustang a global brand,” the company explained.
Rushbrook pointed to two reasons for Ford’s partnership with Red Bull: “Participating in the competitions means that you have to find the right partners, both on a technical level and on the level of principles and values. We wanted to find the right technical partner, which would allow us to contribute at this level and enrich our knowledge. It was the perfect match. But we also want to win. We don’t want to be on the grid just to do laps. Red Bull is at the top, as they showed in 2022, but also in previous years.»
Formula 1 is all about survival of the fittest, as it is dominated by the richest teams dominating the weakest. Red Bull has won six drivers’ titles since 2010, and currently has the hottest talent on the grid in 2-time champion Max Verstappen.
Whether or not this new partnership will produce winning cars against Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren remains to be seen. What is certain is that the motorsport world will be eagerly waiting to see what happens next.