Red Bull & Ford partnership solves F1 team's key weakness - MPH


Red Bull has announced a partnership with Ford, which returns to F1 for the first time in over 20 years. The deal is the final step in the team becoming a truly independent F1 constructor, writes Mark Hughes

Red Bull USA 2022

Red Bull and Ford teaming up from 2026 is another manifestation of the commercial pull of F1 in the Netflix era. As a sponsorship deal with some possible input in the ERS technology, on the surface this is very similar to what Andretti Global is proposing in its bid to enter F1 with the Cadillac name.

But this is just one of several models of automotive partnerships: from the full-on ownership by Renault of the Alpine team, through the majority shareholding Audi will eventually take of Sauber, through the part (one-third) ownership of Daimler Benz in the Mercedes F1 team, to the genuine engineering-led factory involvement of Honda as a power unit partner but no stake in a team, down to the simple sponsorship of Alfa-Romeo of Sauber (a deal which ends soon to make way for the Audi takeover).

Emphasising the benefits of getting in early and growing with the sport itself, the net annual cost of F1 for the Mercedes team is about one-tenth of what Audi is reportedly paying to purchase Sauber ($600 million). Mercedes purchased Brawn for a reported $175 million at the end of 2009, but subsequently sold one-third shares to Toto Wolff and Jim Ratcliffe for significantly more than that. They have of course invested heavily in the years since.

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The Red Bull deal is an interesting one, though. The sporting fortunes of Red Bull were for years at the mercy of its engine partner Renault. That worked fine when Renault Sport was at the cutting edge of software development for exhaust blowing of the diffuser and generally providing a competitively powerful and fuel-efficient engine in the V8 era. But not at all well when Renault struggled to match the best of the hybrid power units. Red Bull’s subsequent relationship with Honda has been much better, but still left the team’s destiny relying upon an outside entity, one which has not been able to provide a long-term commitment to F1.

Of course, the only teams of comparable stature to Red Bull – Mercedes and Ferrari – did not have this problem as they made their own power units. It was time Red Bull did the same and that was what the creation of Red Bull Powertrains at the end of 2020 represented. Initially that entity was going to take over the production and development of the Honda PUs for the remainder of this formula to the end of 2025. But Honda’s subsequent decision to stay with the project for that time has allowed Powertrains to begin preparations for 2026 (though the PU regs have yet to be finalised).

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Ford is simply putting its name to the power units which will be designed and built at Red Bull Powertrains though there could be co-operation regarding ERS development – which will assume even greater importance under the ‘26 regulations when the electrical element is set to provide as much as 50% of the total power. But the Ford deal in no way compromises Red Bull’s new-found independence in the way that the stillborn Porsche deal would have done. Porsche was also happy to simply brand the Powertrains PU but wanted a 50% stake in the team, terms which were not acceptable to Red Bull.

Now Red Bull keeps its independence as well as control over its own power unit and a very useful sponsorship contribution. In return, Ford gets high-profile visibility on a top team for relatively little spend at what is believed to be in the region of $30 million per year (albeit still around 50% of what it costs Mercedes F1 to run its own team).

Which as things stand into 2026 gives us Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull, Alpine and Audi as those making their own engines, the true factory teams. So the competitive structure for the future begins to put itself in place.