Medland: 'Red Bull called F1 boss to the stage... but he wasn't coming'


Behind the scenes at Red Bull's 2023 F1 launch: Chris Medland joined the drawn-out New York event and found himself talking to Stefano Domenicali, just as the presenters called the F1 CEO on to the stage

Christian Horner and Red Bull drivers at 2023 team launch

Will Red Bull's 2024 launch be just as dramatic?

Red Bull

There was a slightly chaotic nature to the Red Bull season launch at the Classic Car Club in Manhattan. On a freezing morning where the wind whipped across the Hudson River and hit those queuing outside with a windchill of -15C, a lot of what people were waiting for was already an open secret.

Ford’s return to Formula 1 had been mooted for a number of weeks, and in the build-up to the launch event those rumours only grew before Italian media leaked the announcement a day early. But that wasn’t the reason Red Bull was here.

The launch had actually been planned prior to the Ford deal coming together, with the team discussing its intentions as far back as the United States Grand Prix last year. Title partner Oracle is US-based, and with such huge interest and investment coming from America, Red Bull wanted to be in New York regardless.

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Thursday night was spent with Daniel Ricciardo appearing on The Late Show and Christian Horner and Sergio Perez filming with Jimmy Fallon – having F1 and Red Bull in town was a big deal already.

Horner himself said “the growth of our sport in America cannot be ignored” and by bringing the team to New York City at the same time it was going to confirm a new American partner it found itself massively in demand. At least with the reigning world champion and one of the most popular F1 drivers in the States it had the capacity to deal with that.

And then the Ford partnership did happen. The freezing weather meant rethinking a planned Times Square announcement early on Friday – especially given the massive cost of taking over the area – but meant the event was going to need to include the automotive giant.

Ford CEO Jim Farley with Red Bull drivers and Christian Horner

Ford CEO Jim Farley (centre) joined the launch

Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Where it got chaotic is in how many stakeholders were now interested in being part of Red Bull’s launch. Ford wanted to turn it into a 2026 event, and F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali was in town as the welcome party to another major manufacturer. But Red Bull still has a long way to go before that partnership will start, and this was mainly meant to be about 2023 and Max Verstappen chasing a third straight championship with a Honda-influenced power unit.

“We are talking about Ford now for 2026 but I also want to say we are still with Honda at the moment, and what they are doing at the moment is incredible,” Verstappen said. “Without them of course we couldn’t have had the success that we had.

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“So we are also very much looking forward to continuing that for the moment and really extracting the most out of that as well before we make the switch for 2026.

“I just hope everything goes smoothly, we know that 2026 is going to be an important and also difficult time because you want to have everything ready and there’s never enough time to be fully ready, but we are all very excited.”

A drawn-out launch event might not have captivated everyone watching, but it provided the fans who were allowed to attend to get close to the drivers and Horner at different locations around the large open garage-like building that looks out over the river.

Eventually, attention turned to the 2023 car, but as is so often the case it was only a display model that appeared as a screen was raised amid giant sparklers to mark the moment. It wasn’t long before Red Bull Ford Powertrains was finally announced, and Ford CEO Jim Farley drove into the room to join the team members and talk about the new partnership.

As the event wrapped, Domenicali was also called up to join them (see below), but I have a confession to make. At this exact moment, I was interviewing F1’s CEO for SiriusXM, as he thought it had been communicated that he wouldn’t be taking to the stage.

The reasoning for his change of mind was because the focus had been on Red Bull’s launch rather than Ford, and the latter is a major feather in F1’s cap when it comes to the new power unit regulations, but he didn’t want to be seen as helping promote the team’s 2023 season. After all, it would be a brutal schedule to try and do that for all ten constructors…

That message hadn’t reached the stage, but it only serves to highlight the disconnect between what some stakeholders were wanting from the event and what Red Bull had planned.

But it’s a great problem for Red Bull to have had. It couldn’t go too hard on Ford because its team members were all wearing Honda-branded 2023 team kit (from Castore – another new partner it was keen to promote) and has titles to defend with the Japanese manufacturer this season. Plus, it doesn’t actually see it as quite the seismic deal it might have initially appeared to be.

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“It’s a very different relationship to what was discussed with Porsche,” Horner said. “This is purely a commercial and technical deal, so there’s no exchange of any shares or participation within the business.

“It’s a very straightforward agreement where we will have the ability to share and access to R&D, particularly on the EV side, and sell technology software development and so on. Then on the commercial side, with Ford being so prevalent in the US. As a commercial partner, it helps us achieve even more penetration in that market.”

So while many wanted to focus on something that is coming three years down the line, the team itself was just as keen about the fact it was showing off a version of this year’s car. F1 moves on quickly.

One example of that rapid pace is the evolution of the Red Bull team since it purchased the Ford-owned Jaguar outfit in 2004 and turned it into the multi-championship winning set-up that it currently is. In reality, Ford’s arrival is just adding the missing few percent that turns it back into a full constructor with power unit design and manufacture under the same roof.

In a room full of content creators, influencers and as many members of US-based broadcast partner ESPN as possible, maybe some of that messaging got lost. But the interest was a clear sign of the progress the sport has made in an expansion market recently – and Red Bull’s place in that – while Ford’s return guarantees the momentum will continue into 2026 and beyond.