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How an out-of-the-blue email to Horner started Ford’s F1 return

Ford has revealed how the trigger for its return to Formula 1 with Red Bull was an out-of-the-blue email that it sent to team boss Christian Horner.

The collapse of talks that Red Bull was having with Porsche in the summer of 2022 came at the exact time that Ford was considering the possibility of a return to F1 – attracted by grand prix racing’s booming popularity and the attraction of the 2026 technical regulations.

But, amid questions over the investment needed to create its own power unit, or even buy a team, Ford’s global motorsports director Mark Rushbrook thought there would be no harm in writing to Red Bull to see if post-Porsche there was any scope for its own deal. And, after digging out Horner’s email address, it was a message he sent that set in motion the events that ended up in their current partnership.

Speaking at Red Bull’s Milton Keynes factory this week to discuss how far the project has come, Rushbrook revealed the strange circumstances of how the talks initially got going.

“For us, we were definitely on that journey of: Formula 1 is the right place to be, but it was how were we going to enter?” Rushbrook said. “We were talking to different teams. We were thinking about doing our own power unit programme, independently.

“As it became very clear, at least from what we saw from the outside, that it was not going to work with Porsche for Red Bull, I literally got Christian’s email address, sent him an email and said, ‘Hey, do you want to talk?’

“I got on a plane to come here, and I felt maybe 20 minutes into that discussion – okay, there’s the foundation for a partnership here that’s going to work. And I left that meeting and called Jim Farley [Ford CEO] and then it accelerated quickly from there.”

Jim Farley, CEO of Ford, Mark Rushbrook, Ford and Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Horner said that the email from Rushbrook was especially timely because, while Red Bull felt it had needed a manufacturer involvement for its engine project, it had to be on the right terms.

“We went through a process of it would be far better strategically for us to partner with an OEM, because as an independent manufacturer, you miss out on the advantages that Ferrari or Mercedes or Honda, who changed their mind, technically have,” said Horner.

“We went through a process and we concluded that a change in ownership wasn’t the right route for the business, and then I sat down with Mark who said Ford were exploring a return to F1. It was, well, hey, we’re looking at doing this. This is our plan. So it happened very, very quickly.”

Horner also referenced a moment during a meeting in late 2022 where he was given a clear visual sign about how up for an F1 involvement Ford were.

“We went to a meeting at Dearborn on the way to Brazil, and met with Mark, Bill Ford and Jim,” said Horner. “I thought we were in good shape when Jim walked into the meeting in a Sergio Perez cap!

“You could just feel that there was an enthusiasm, a real enthusiasm from the very top of the company, from Bill Ford, who was so enthusiastic about coming back in F1, and Jim who’s a racer himself.

“It was like, we don’t want to tell you guys how to do your business, but we want this to be a real, real partnership and it was a very, very straightforward negotiation from that point forward.”

Red Bull Ford Powertrains

Red Bull Ford Powertrains

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

It was little wonder that from start to finish, the Red Bull Ford deal was concluded in around 12 weeks – which is a world away from the Porsche situation where things collapsed after six months of negotiations.

While the approach that Ford is taking for its next venture in F1 is a world away from previous periods – when it ran either its own engines with its famous Cosworths or its own team with Jaguar – it is one that Rushbrook thinks better fits its other motorsport activities.

He added: “We looked at: should we buy a team? I think we demonstrated, by what this team [Red Bull] has become from what used to be Jackie Stewart and Jaguar, that’s not our core competency, right?

“Yes, we’re in motorsports, but nowhere do we own or run a team. We always go with partners, whether it’s Dick Johnson Racing in Australia, or Penske in NASCAR or Bob Tasca in NHRA or M-Sport in rallying.

“So with this opportunity to partner with what we believe is the best team in the series, and to complement it in the right way, that’s the right way for us.”

With the Red Bull and Ford relationship now in full swing, as they make sure to use each other’s strengths to help drive the 2026 engine project forward, Horner even thinks how things are shaping up could be something that others follow in the future.

“I think it’s a great way for Ford to have got involved without having the full responsibility and liability of needing to deliver to perform,” he said. “It’s a partnership that complements what we’re doing, and I think it’ll actually set a blueprint for other manufacturers to look at similar models.

“I think we’re already seeing Alpine exploring that now in in the conversations that they’re hosting. So I think it changes the dynamic of the way that OEMs can come into the sport – without taking on the full burden of either an engine facility like this, or buying a team, or investing in a team.”

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