Why Ford feels Red Bull has ace up its sleeve with F1 2026 engine project

The American car giant is teaming up with Red Bull Powertrains to help develop an engine for the new 2026 regulations.

The ambitious plans, which will see Red Bull produce its own power unit for the first time in its history, have led to suggestions that it could be a step too far and risk the world championship-winning squad falling down the order if it does not hit the ground running.

Recently, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said that while it was on matching its performance targets so far, there was no way it could make up for a lack of experience compared to its key opposition.

«We’re on a steep learning curve where we’ve got 70 years of disadvantage to Ferrari, but we’ve got a great group of people,» he said.

Engine partner Ford accepts that there is a huge learning exercise going on with Red Bull right now, but it also sees some positives from the way things are being approached.

In particular, Mark Rushbrook, Ford’s global motorsports director, thinks that not needing to worry about current engine specs was a big benefit for ensuring everything was thrown at making the 2026 design as good as possible.

Speaking exclusively to Autosport about how much of a challenge he was expecting, Rushbrook said: «It’s Formula 1, it’s always going to be challenging.

«It is absolutely true that at Ferrari they have the knowledge, all the people and all that experience in a system that already works. So yes, they might have an advantage with that.

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

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

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

«But I would say that one of the things though where we have an advantage is the team that is working on the power unit for us, for 2026, is only working on the power unit for 2026. They are not working on the power units for today.»

Rushbrook has reiterated recent comments from Horner regarding the engine project being on target, although he conceded that it was impossible to know how they stack up against the opposition.

«Early in any programme you set goals and milestones, and we are hitting our own goals and milestones at the moment,» he said.

«But the pace in Formula 1 is so much faster than in any other form of motorsport that we are in. It is just full-throttle all the way, from the very beginning of the development until 2030, so until we are done racing this set of regulations.»

Asked about recent rumours suggesting the Red Bull engine was behind where it needed to be, Rushbrook said: «What I will say is that we set our own goals for the development of this power unit based upon experience and what we felt that is needed to be successful in 2026.

«We have no idea where the competition is or what their progression curve is. So a direct comparison to the competitors we don’t have. But for the comparison to what we believe is needed to be successful, we are in a good place.»

Ford has been brought on board by Red Bull to help specifically with the development of the electrical elements of the new power unit.

However, Rushbrook says his company has also begun helping out in other areas where its expertise can be called upon.

«We have a technical interface from my team directly with the campus in Milton Keynes to contribute in many different areas,» he said.

«The internal combustion engine and the turbo weren’t on the initial list, but there is a lot of knowledge that we have with modelling and testing that can help, so that has been engaged and employed as well. Our main focus though is in the electrification, that is a big opportunity.»

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