The whispers of a merger between Ford and Red Bull had been the talk of Formula One for months, an intriguing story line in a competition that knows the value of drama.
The dance went on for months: Ford suggesting its interest in returning to the series was genuine, and Red Bull open about its discussions with multiple manufacturers.
On Friday, the companies confirmed the loudest rumors were true: Ford is re-entering into Formula One to partner with Red Bull, currently the series’s top team and the employer of its reigning champion, Max Verstappen. In the new arrangement, the American automaker and the Austrian drinks company will join forces to design a new power unit ahead of the 2026 season, and try to extend Red Bull’s dominance of the world’s most popular motor sports series.
A flashy New York launch will confirm the partnership on Friday, a collaboration in which Red Bull will tap Ford’s expertise in electric vehicles before a fundamental shift in engine rules for the 2026 season, when teams must become reliant on 100 percent sustainable fuels and, crucially for Ford at least, greater electric power.
That looming shift has already lured the German car manufacturer Audi to Formula One. Porsche, which held talks with Red Bull, is considering joining the fray, as is General Motors. Ford, which left Formula One almost two decades ago, also was looking for a way back in.
“We talked to a lot of people, we met with a lot of people,” said Jim Farley, Ford’s chief executive. “And as soon as we landed on Red Bull, we knew this was the right opportunity.”
Formula 1: On and Off the Track
- Listening to the Radio: With the press of a button on the steering wheel, drivers communicate with their team. It’s an improvement from when they used hand-held signs.
- Covered From Head to Toe: Drivers are loaded with equipment, like a biometric sensor and fire-resistant overalls, to keep them safe in racecars. Please, no jewelry — and let’s discuss the underwear.
- Rubber Meets the Road: During a race, determining which type of tire to use and when, can turn a loser into a winner — or vice versa.
- How Do Drivers Fight Jet Lag? It affects performance, so they use caffeine, avoid light and shoo away hotel housekeeping. And how about some golf?
- More on Formula 1: Stories about drivers, teams and issues.
Formula One racecars are propelled by what is known as a power unit, a complex bit of machinery that includes several components, including an internal combustion engine, electrical motors and a turbocharger. Red Bull had previously been supplied with power units by Honda. But it found itself facing a crisis — and needing a new partner — when Honda announced in 2020 that it would leave Formula One within a year.
An agreement has since been reached for the team to continue sourcing Honda engines through 2025, but the shock of losing its supplier focused minds at Red Bull and ended with it resolving to build its own version rather than buy one produced by, or shared with, a rival like Mercedes.
“The Ford discussion felt right from the word go,” Christian Horner, Red Bull’s team principal, said in an interview. Both he and Farley declined to provide financial details of their new partnership.
Red Bull, which already employs hundreds of people for its Formula One team, had decided it would go into the engine-building business in 2021, poaching top engineers from rivals, notably Mercedes, and setting up a new division at its factory outside of London. That operation, Red Bull Powertrains, will become the locus of the partnership with Ford.
For Ford, the new rules, particularly the emphasis on electricity, and sustainable fuels, led it to revise its position on Formula One, a sport that it left after deciding it could not justify the business case to remain. Ford sold its Jaguar racing team to Red Bull in 2004.
Ford’s new involvement — and, Farley made clear, its potential costs — would not be as intensive as those borne by typical teams backed by automobile manufacturers like Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault. “We wanted something more strategic,” Farley said.
He called it “a very practical approach to entering Formula One,” adding, “I can look my shareholders, the Ford family, in the eyes and say we’re being very judicious and thoughtful.”
Mark Rushbrook, the head of Ford’s motor sports division, said Ford spoke with 10 Formula One teams, as well as some aspiring teams, before reaching a deal with Red Bull, a decision that executives said was eventually made late last year.
In an interview before the deal was announced, Farley and Horner both spoke of a division of labor and responsibilities, with Red Bull’s expertise in aerodynamics seen as complementing Ford’s research and multibillion-dollar investment in developing batteries and electric vehicles.
Farley described the partnership as “a tech exchange,” but Ford may be just as excited about tapping into a new audience. Formula One, powered by new races and a popular Netflix series, is resurgent in the United States. Three races, including a first Las Vegas Grand Prix, will be held in America in the new season, more than in any other country on the globe-trotting circuit, and the hit Netflix series, “Drive to Survive,” has made stars of its drivers and even team managers like Horner.
“I think, you know, that series opened America’s eyes to Formula One,” Horner said. “It brought in a whole new fan base, a young fan base, a much broader demographic, and it’s had an incredible impact.”
That is exactly the cohort that Farley and Ford are trying to reach as the company looks to grow its electric vehicle business. “We wanted to connect with a new group of consumers,” he said.
Ford remains the third most successful engine manufacturer in Formula One history, but its last championship-winning car was driven by Michael Schumacher almost three decades ago. It knows as well as anyone how Formula One can be a fickle sport, and how rule changes can disrupt the fortunes of once dominant teams, a fact most recently confirmed by the decline of Mercedes, which until it was usurped by Red Bull in the last two seasons was the undisputed powerhouse of the grid.
By the time the Ford-Red Bull collaboration reaches the start line in 2026, the changes will be even more profound, and the potential for unpredictability even greater. Rushbrook described the changes as akin to “a clean slate” for the sport.
Red Bull’s ability to ride rule changes successfully over its 16 years helped to shape Ford’s thinking, he added. “They can really have the DNA or the culture inside their team to be the best and to be at the front,” he said.
Farley said he is convinced that Ford has found a formula that works, one that will not require Ford to invest bottomless sums to keep pace with traditional factory-run teams.
“This is a different kind of wiring than the traditional relationships in the past,” he said, “and one of the best bang for bucks in motor sports.”