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Why Red Bull Powertrains is a Huge Gamble

Red Bull Powertrains is a huge risk, but it also makes the most sense for the team....

Red Bull Racing has never built an engine themselves. They’ve been successful despite that, no doubt, but they have no experience as a works team. So when they decided to make their own engines from 2026, it made sense to bring on Ford as a partner, but Ford haven’t been a part of F1 since 2004 and a lot has changed since then. But with Honda out of the picture, Red Bull has two options: buy an engine from another works team like Mercedes or become a works team themselves. Considering a customer team hasn’t won a championship since Red Bull in 2013, it’s no wonder that team principal, Christian Horner, said they “have to make it work.”

For some context, Red Bull started their life in F1 as engine customers sporting Ferrari and Renault engines. They were successful until the hybrid era when Renault engines proved to be unreliable. When they started using Honda engines, they ended a 12-year partnership with Renault, but by 2021 it was clear they had made the right choice.

Honda has left Red Bull to supply Aston Martin in 2026. Given the circumstances, Red Bull would have to buy an engine from Mercedes (unlikely given their rivalry); Ferrari (not the most reliable engine); or Renault, the self-admitted least powerful engine on the grid. Red Bull don’t actually have much of a choice for the future of their team except to create their own power units, but they know it’s not going to be easy.

“…We’ve got a lot of ground to cover and a lot of ground to make up,” Christian Horner said. “We’re competing against manufacturers that have decades of experience.”

Ford were brought onboard to make up for Red Bull’s lack of experience and that makes sense. Ford are one of the most successful engine manufacturers in the history of Formula 1, only behind Mercedes and Ferrari thanks to the Cosworth DFV engine among others. The problem is that Ford haven’t been involved in F1 for 20 years and a lot has changed. Despite that, Ford are very confident in their ability to deliver.

“We’ve got the best drivers, we’ve got the best technical support,” Ford CEO, Jim Farley, said. “We have the best of Ford and around the globe to support them. But the team, the powertrain team that they’re building in Milton Keynes is absolutely top notch. We are going first class to the very top of the podium.”

Farley even directly compared this project with their successful Cosworth DFV era in the sixties and seventies in which tech was directly transferred from Formula 1 and back onto the road and vice versa. This explains what Ford get out of this arrangement.

“The best aerodynamics in the world are in Formula 1, the best telemetry, the best digital diagnostics… and actually, we need all those things for electric and digital cars. So it’s actually going back to the seventies with a pure tech transfer,” Farley added.

“This is not like ‘our team,’ we’re going there to literally transfer technology. We can offer battery tech for them because in ’26 we’re going to go 50% electric [power] and they need high-discharge batteries. And we do that in NHRA, for example. And on the other hand, we can get telemetry, digital diagnosis as well as aero, which we can put in our production electric cars to make the batteries smaller.”

Is this a risk? Yes, a massive one, but what both parties have to gain is even larger. Prestige and control for Red Bull, prestige and technology for Ford. If they pull it off, there’s no stopping them.

Let’s end this with the words of Helmut Marko, “We all hope it will be a rocket. We will see.”

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