Ford's Historic Return to F1: Everything You Need to Know

ford f1 annoucement
Ford's Historic Return to F1, Dissectedillustration by Tim Marrs
ford f1 annoucement
illustration by Tim Marrs

Buckle up. Ford Motor Company today announced a historic return to the richest, most technologically advanced, and popular form of motorsport in the world — Formula 1. The company is partnering with Red Bull Racing, the defending F1 champion in both the driver’s and constructor’s championship, to build hybrid powertrains for the 2026 season, when new regulations take effect. Decades have passed since Ford’s F1 engine constructing glory days. The last time a Ford-powered car won the F1 driver’s championship was 1994, when Michael Schumacher captured his first with the Benetton team. Not since 2004 has Ford participated in F1 — as an owner of Jaguar Racing.

“After a 22-year hiatus of Ford being in Formula 1, we’re going back,” Mark Rushbrook, the Global Director of Ford Performance Motorsports, told R&T. “We’ll be competing from 2026 through 2030. The entry point is strategically as a technical partner with Red Bull Racing and specifically Red Bull Powertrains, which will be renamed Red Bull-Ford Powertrains. We’ll be a strategic partner to develop the new power unit.”

The Red Bull-Ford engines will power both Red Bull F1 cars and the outfit’s sister team, Scuderia AlphaTauri, so the plan is to have four cars on the grid come 2026. The team will design and build the new hybrid engines at Red Bull’s campus in Milton Keynes, Great Britain.

tyrrell ford
Jackie Stewart in a Tyrrell-Ford at the 1973 Monaco GP. Stewart won this race.Hearst Owned

Ford’s announcement comes at a time when F1’s popularity is growing rapidly and globally. Outside of World Cup soccer, there is no form of sport that reaches an audience nearly as large, and on every continent. In other words, in all the places where Ford sells cars. F1 has seen its biggest growth in the U.S. The Netflix series “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” has become a pop culture juggernaut, and for the first time, the year 2023 will see three Grand Prix in America (Miami, Austin, and Las Vegas). For years up until the Circuit of the Americas in Austin opened in 2012, F1 held no races in the U.S. at all.

Additionally, the new F1 engine regulations offer the opportunity for a fresh start and a level playing field, and a new focus on sustainability, electrification, and cost-efficiency. The 2026 regulations put F1 and Ford (and other OEMs, for that matter) on the same page in terms of vehicle development for the future.

The new regulations require hybrid power units with 1.6-liter turbo V-6s that will produce zero exhaust CO2 emissions. According to F1, the carbon in the fuel will “be derived from non-food sources, genuine municipal waste, or even out of the atmosphere.” The 2026 hybrid engines will run on three-times as much electrical power than they currently use. The motors will provide over 1000 horsepower. The cars will aim to use 70 kg of fuel during a Grand Prix, according to F1. That’s less than half of what they used in 2013. All of that adds up to scintillating technical challenges for the engine developers, and a key laboratory on the racetrack for innovation to be proven for future road cars.

alan jones in the 27 williams ford at the argentine gp
Alan Jones in the #27 Williams-Ford at the Argentine GP. Jones won this race.Hearst Owned

Ford is not the only American brand throwing a hat in the ring. Andretti Global (headed by Michael Andretti) and General Motors, through its Cadillac division, have also announced a plan to enter F1, with a new team headquartered in the U.S. The twist there is that F1 has not yet confirmed whether Andretti-Cadillac will be invited to the grid. But the series did announce on Thursday a new official application process for new teams. “The growth and appeal of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship is at unprecedented levels,” said FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem. “The FIA believes the conditions are right for interested parties, which meet the selection criteria, to express a formal interest in entering the Championship.” Clearly, F1 is ripe for new investment, particularly in America.

“We’ve been looking at Formula 1, watching it for the last couple of years, as these technical regulations came together, as the sport was growing, and we’ve looked at a lot of options of how we can reenter Formula 1,” says Rushbrook. “It’s very fitting to go in at this point.”

Red Bull’s current engine partner is Honda, and will remain so until the end of the 2025 season. The team has launched Red Bull Powertrains to fill the void of Honda’s exit, “bringing the power unit division in house,” as team principal Christian Horner has put it. Ford’s contribution, the company says, will include battery cell technology, electric motor and power unit control software and analytics, and more yet to be determined.

gabriele tarquini in a coloni ford at the 1988 monaco gp
Caption: Gabriele Tarquini in a Coloni-Ford at the 1988 Monaco GP.Hearst Owned

“We can add a lot of technical expertise,” says Rushbrook. “And while we’re adding that expertise, we are going to learn from that and we can bring that back to our company to effect the development of our future electric road vehicles.”

Under CEO Jim Farley, Ford is making massive investments in motorsports globally, particularly with the next-generation Mustang set to hit showrooms this summer. Fans will see the new Mustang nameplate in NASCAR, NHRA, Australia Supercars—from grassroots track days all the way up to the Mustang GT3 at Le Mans. The Ford Bronco is racing at Baja and other off-road competitions, and swept the podium at the King of Hammers Ultra4 stock-class race in southern California a year ago.

The current racing program is highly reminiscent of Ford’s Total Performance campaign of the Sixties, when Ford was first marketing its Mustang and globalization was creating new markets for Ford cars in Europe for the first time. In 1963, CEO Henry Ford II announced that he was throwing his family company into competition. “We are going in with both feet,” he told reporters. As a result, Ford-powered cars won NASCAR races, the Indy 500 in partnership with Lotus, and Le Mans, beating Ferrari famously from 1966 to 1970.

andrea de cesaris in a dallara ford at the 1989 spanish gp
Andrea de Cesaris in a Dallara-Ford at the 1989 Spanish GP.Hearst Owned

A huge part of that Total Performance investment was in Formula 1. The company debuted as a powertrain builder with the DFV engine, in partnership with Britain’s Cosworth, in 1967, at the Dutch Grand Prix. Jimmy Clark of Scotland won that race in a Ford-Cosworth Lotus 49. The Ford-Cosworth DFV went on to rack up more victories than any other engine, ever to this day, with 155 wins from 1967 all the way to 1983. Ford-powered F1 cars won 13 F1 driver’s titles, starting with Graham Hill in a Lotus-Ford in 1968 and ending with Schumacher in 1994. A major thrust of all Ford’s investment in F1 through those years is the same that we see now: to sell Mustangs.

“Our re-entry into F1 is part of a focused motorsport strategy that advances Mustang as a global brand,” the company says.

Rushbrook points to two reasons why Ford landed with Red Bull, specifically. “As we go racing, in different series, it’s all about finding the right partners, both on a technical basis but also being aligned on principles,” he says. “We wanted to make sure we had the right technical partners, where we could contribute and complement what they already have and what they can contribute and complement to us. It was a perfect match.” More importantly? “As we race all around the world, we want to be on the grid to win. We don’t want to just be on the track circling; we want to be at the front. Red Bull is at the front, as they demonstrated in 2022 and many years prior.”

michael schumacher at the british gp in 1994
Michael Schumacher at the British GP in 1994, the year he won his first world F1 title in a Benetton-Ford.Hearst Owned

F1 is all about survival of the fastest, ruled by the richer teams who feed on the weaker ones. Red Bull has claimed six driver’s F1 world championships since 2010, and currently fields the driver believed by almost all experts to be the hottest talent right now, two-time defending champion Max Verstappen.

Whether or not the new partnership will produce checkered flag-winning cars — against competitors like Mercedes, Ferrari, and McLaren — remains to be seen. The only sure thing? The whole world of motorsport will be watching to see what happens next.

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