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Formula 1

Ford and Red Bull show how Andretti/Cadillac can win F1 over

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Glorified sponsorship masked as an engine supply, no real investment or technological input – and therefore, not a real Formula 1 manufacturer project.

That was the most cynical interpretation of the Cadillac-branded bid by Andretti and General Motors to be granted a new F1 team. And it is also how some are seeing Ford’s newly announced return to F1 with Red Bull too.

It’s inevitable that this news has triggered thoughts along the lines of ‘if Ford can enter piggybacking onto someone else, why is Andretti’s General Motors deal not good enough?’.

For a crash-course in that saga, you need to know that Andretti faces serious opposition from the majority of the current F1 teams, and F1’s commercial rights holder is keen to protect the existing entities. Despite Andretti doing what was asked by going out and finding a manufacturer to partner with.

One of the arguments is that it could just be smoke and mirrors, with General Motors simply blessing the use of one of its brands’ names so that Andretti can argue it will run as a works team with manufacturer-backing and get on the grid, while General Motors benefits from having an F1 team with minimal input. That is compounded by the view that Andretti using a customer Renault engine and calling it a Cadillac would belittle the commitment from the ‘real’ engine manufacturers.

In other words, F1 stakeholders doubt whether it would really be a General Motors works team, and if it isn’t then it shouldn’t get the green light.

Without wanting to get into too much of a point-scoring contest, the Ford deal seems to be viewed differently by F1. Investing in and contributing to another manufacturer’s engine programme represents a tangible involvement beyond just paying for a sticker or a name on an entry list.

So, while it is not an out-and-out Ford project, it will be part-funding the Red Bull Powertrains engine and there seems to be a genuine belief Ford will be properly involved with the battery and energy recovery systems. That’s certainly how Ford is selling it.

“We don’t just go racing just as a marketing exercise anywhere,” said Ford Performance director Mark Rushbrook when asked by The Race how important it was to have actual technical input, rather than settle for being a glorified sponsor.

“And especially in Formula 1. The opportunity to really get that technical learning was important for us and without it, we wouldn’t have done it.”

Supervan 1.29.1

But we need to take that with a pinch of salt. It’s the same as the counterargument from Andretti and General Motors, which have said they would help with car development and would have intellectual property in the engine they take from Renault. You can’t just take one manufacturer’s word for granted and shoot down another.

Clearly, some see the Ford deal as paying for the privilege of calling itself an F1 engine supplier and dressing it up as something more. Red Bull has previous for getting big names to sponsor its F1 engines. Tag Heuer did it and, much more relevantly, Aston Martin did it as a cut-price way to get into F1 back in its pre-Lawrence Stroll days.

But if we sidestep the sniping at how legitimate the Ford or General Motors F1 projects might be, the merits of the Ford deal might just hint at how Andretti and Cadillac can win a place on the grid.

This Red Bull deal represents a great bang-for-buck route into F1 for Ford. It requires far less commitment than starting a new works team, buying into an existing team, or building its own engine from scratch. Ford is not entering F1 in 2026 in the same way Audi is, for example. But it’s still being welcomed with open arms and great fanfare.

And there is nothing wrong with that. It is a middle ground between a fully-fledged works team and jazzed-up sponsor. Ford found that middle ground because Red Bull being an independent organisation represented a unique proposition as an engine manufacturer. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement that F1 gets something out of too. Great!

Oracle Red Bull Racing Season Launch 2023

There is no indication of significant F1 objection to this Red Bull-Ford arrangement, which must mean that it is accepted there is no single way a manufacturer has to ‘do’ F1. There’s wiggle room in what a manufacturer is allowed to do.

Maybe Andretti and General Motors have found their own middle ground, their own wiggle room, with a different kind of opportunity to enter a team in the name of a major US manufacturer.

On paper, that still looks as strong as it did the day it was announced. So if F1 and the FIA are both genuinely open to expanding the grid for the right team, then Ford’s not-quite-full-works-programme should encourage Andretti that all it really needs to do is make a compelling case that the Cadillac/General Motors support goes beyond a badging deal. (It also wouldn’t hurt to follow Ford’s lead and conduct everything in private without taking pot shots in public.)

Andrett Cadillac 2
3D model by Chris Paul Design @ChrisPaulDesig1 /Unkredible Studios @weareunkredible

This was essentially already known but it’s a handy reinforcement that, in theory, a manufacturer doesn’t have to have a majority stake in a team or make an arbitrary massive investment to be considered a serious prospect.

Of course, it’s possible it still won’t be enough. The key difference between what Andretti/General Motors are trying to achieve and how Ford is getting back into F1, after all, is that Ford’s backing an existing entity.

Ford will be directly supporting a 2026 engine manufacturer (Red Bull Powertrains) and strengthening two existing ‘franchises’ (Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri), not using it to try to enter its own team and dilute anything. That is one of the key concerns over letting Andretti Cadillac be an 11th team, which is why such a high bar is being set.

It would be a shame if the answer to the opposition to Andretti really is as simple as ‘no outsiders are welcome’, even if the desire to be cautious and protect the existing entries is perfectly justified.

But if Andretti makes a strong enough case, it’s hard to see how one manufacturer that may only be making a limited contribution to an engine programme can have the red carpet rolled out, while another that could be trying to back a whole team gets the rug pulled from under it.

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