F1: Domenicali feared bias at Red Bull-Ford launch

(GMM) F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali caused a stir at Red Bull’s announcement of a 2026 Formula 1 tie-up with Ford last Friday.

The Italian was even in the room in New York as the wraps were pulled off this year’s Red Bull and Domenicali was invited on stage during the live event.

Initially, according to Osterreich newspaper, rumors circulated that Domenicali had simply felt unwell at the time his name was called – as the sport’s chief executive was spotted in the crowd by Max Verstappen.

But although Ford CEO Jim Farley was also on stage, Domenicali was apparently surprised that the event was too Red Bull-focused – and his appearance might have been interpreted as biased against the other major F1 teams.

Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner and Jim Farley, CEO of Ford talk on stage during the Oracle Red Bull Racing Season Launch 2023 at Classic Car Club Manhattan on February 03, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for Oracle Red Bull Racing) // FIA / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Nonetheless, the big story was undoubtedly Ford’s decision to re-enter F1 after a long absence rather than the ‘new’ Red Bull car for 2023.

Indeed, the FIA swiftly and separately announced that ‘Red Bull Ford’ would be one of six engine manufacturers on the 2026 grid – alongside Alpine, Audi, Ferrari, Mercedes and Honda.

And the ‘new’ car revealed on stage in New York bore a more than striking resemblance, both in physical shape and livery, only boosted the Ford-themed nature of the subsequent headlines.

“I think the car that we’ve shown today obviously will be somewhat different when you see it Bahrain,” team boss Christian Horner acknowledged.

“Yes, what you’ve seen today is not a total reflection of what will hit the track in Bahrain in a couple of weeks’ time.”

It appears that Red Bull favored a Ford tie-up over the alternatives, which included Porsche but also existing technical partner Honda, because of the emphasis on retaining full independence.

Honda has indicated its desire to serve as a full engine maker with both combustion and ‘hybrid’ elements, while Porsche wanted to buy into a team.

Ford, on the other hand, will contribute mainly financially as well as on the electric side of the all-new 2026 regulations.

“Going back as a racing team, owning a team as we did in the past, didn’t seem right to us,” Ford CEO Jim Farley said.

“It is the right choice for us because it is not a rival car manufacturer. There were opportunities to collaborate with others, but it wasn’t the right path for us.”

As for world champion Verstappen, he said he feels comfortable about Red Bull’s partly Ford-powered future.

“I signed a contract before, not knowing what the engine would be,” said the Dutchman. “People said it was crazy, but I believed in the people involved making the right decisions for the team.”

Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing in London, United Kingdom in 2023. // Red Bull Racing / Red Bull Content Pool