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‘We don’t go racing just as a marketing exercise’ – Ford explain the key factors behind their F1 return with Red Bull

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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.

READ MORE: Ford announce new technical partnership with Red Bull for 2026 and beyond

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.

READ MORE: More efficient, less fuel, and carbon net zero – 7 things you need to know about the 2026 F1 engine regulations

“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.

READ MORE: Formula 1 on course to deliver 100% sustainable fuels for 2026

“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.”

GettyImages-1232993947.jpg

Ford decided the time was right for a return to F1, but they still had to find the right way to do it

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.

FIRST LOOK: Red Bull reveal 2023 RB19 during spectacular New York launch event

“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.

Ford DFV - Clark Zandvoort

Ford's heritage in F1 goes all the way back to the Ford-Cosworth DFV raced by Jim Clark at Lotus

“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.

TEAM GUIDE: Everything you need to know about F1 champions Red Bull ahead of the 2023 season

“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.”

Ford - Stewart Nurburgring

Ford also tasted victory when Johnny Herbert won at the Nurburgring for Stewart-Ford back in 1999

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].

READ MORE: ‘Can he improve? Yes, of course he can’ – Red Bull tip Verstappen to get even better in 2023

“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.”

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