Payne: What a Ford vs. GM F1 rivalry would look like

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 4, 2023

Ford Motor Co.’s blockbuster announcement Friday that it is re-entering Formula 1 racing after 20 years and partnering with the Red Bull team sets up an epic rivalry with crosstown rival General Motors Co. and Andretti Autosport on the world’s biggest, priciest motor racing stage.

Assuming GM and its partner get approval to enter the sport.

The two Detroit automakers are entering F1 at different levels — Andretti and Cadillac (GM’s designated brand for the series) is like an expansion team building from the ground up, while Ford is partnering with the reigning F1 champion Red Bull and its superstar driver, Max Verstappen.

Christian Horner, team principal of the Red Bull Formula One team, left, talks while Ford CEO Jim Farley, right, listens during an Oracle Red Bull Racing event in New York, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. Ford will return to Formula One as the engine provider for Red Bull Racing in a partnership announced Friday that begins with immediate technical support this season and engines in 2026.

Andretti Cadillac’s application to enter F1’s 10-team, 20-car field has been controversial as existing teams debate sharing profits with another franchise. “We expect to have a decision soon from Formula 1,” said Michael Andretti, CEO of Andretti Global, at the 24 Hours of Daytona last week.

Red Bull, on the other hand, is one of the sport’s titans, battling it out with Mercedes in recent years for F1 racing hegemony. If approved, Cadillac and Ford would go head-to-head — with other manufacturer-sponsored teams including Alfa Romeo, Renault and Ferrari — across 23 grand prix events on five continents trailing a train of private jets, shipping containers and semi-trucks in the world’s most exotic circus before a global television mega-audience of 445 million people.

“Ford-Red Bull and GM-Andretti is like comparing a tech giant like Apple with a startup,” said Charles Bradley, veteran Formula 1 authority and global editor-in-chief of “Ford will expect to be competing for race wins from the start, with proven multiple world champions, while GM will likely suffer all the pitfalls associated with a team that’s new to F1.”

Andretti Cadillac will compete against racing F1 behemoths like Red Bull-Honda, Mercedes, and Ferrari. Red Bull driver and 2022 champion Max Verstappen, of the Netherlands, competes during the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix auto race at the Circuit of the Americas, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Austin, Texas.

Partnership aside, GM and Ford want into F1 for the same reasons: 1) because the sport’s fastest-growing audience is in the United States thanks to the ownership of U.S.-based Liberty Media, the hit Netflix series “Drive to Survive,” and three grand prix in Miami, Austin and Las Vegas, and 2) because F1 is an opportunity for manufacturers to develop state-of-the-art hybrid engines and synthetic fuel technology as the industry focuses on electrification.

The Red Bull-Ford announcement was made at a glitzy event in New York City where Red Bull unveiled the livery for its 2023 season car featuring title sponsor Oracle Corporation. Ford’s official partnership with Red Bull would not take place until the 2026 season as Red Bull is currently using a Honda powerplant. Honda’s decision not to renew its contract after 2025 set off a frenzied mating dance between Red Bull and other manufacturers.

The 2026 season brings significant regulatory changes to Formula 1 as the sport moves toward a fully-electric future. Teams will use complex hybrid units that drink synthetic fuels and split their ferocious, 1,000 horsepower 50-50 between a V-6 gas engine and 350kW electric motor. That dovetails with industry and government ambitions for more electrified production drivetrains. Among Red Bull’s suitors was Porsche, but Ford got the nod.

The announcement was made by Ford CEO Jim Farley, himself a passionate driver who competes in amateur racing. The players at the helm of Ford and GM are an important factor as the companies make financial commitments to a sport where over $1 billion is required to develop a powerplant and top teams consume $500 million annual budgets.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, left, and F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali appear on "Fox and Friends" Friday to discuss Ford's re-entry into Formula 1.

GM President Mark Reuss is also a passionate race fan — and competition-licensed driver — who conspicuously made Cadillac’s entry into F1 public last month.

Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford is also a passionate race fan, in keeping with the racing culture that helped his great-grandfather, Henry Ford, attract investors a century ago.

“This is the start of a thrilling new chapter in Ford’s motorsports story that began when my great-grandfather won a race that helped launch our company,” the great-grandson said.

At last fall’s Detroit auto show introducing the new Mustang, Ford’s executive chairman took the mike to announce the pony car would go head-to-head against Corvette for world V-8 supremacy at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France in 2024.

“Mustang will go back to Le Mans,” he cheered. “Once again, we will Go Like Hell.”

A committed environmentalist, Ford also sees his legacy as making the company a global leader in battery-powered tech just as his great-grandfather won the gas-powered battle with the Model T.

“We expect to have a decision soon from Formula 1,” said Michael Andretti (top right), CEO of Andretti Global, at the 24 Hours of Daytona last week. Andretti has partnered with Cadillac to form an F1 team.

The pieces of Ford and GM investment in F1 technology are still coming together.

The shock of losing Honda, its engine supplier, focused Red Bull on building its own in-house unit like chief rival Mercedes. The race team is already well down the road to making a powerplant that conforms with ‘26 rules. That works with Ford’s desire for a strategic partnership — not a capital-sucking, multibillion-dollar engine development program. Ford abandoned its last partnership in Formula 1 — with Jaguar — when it couldn’t justify costs.

“Ford has taken a route that Porsche rejected, becoming a partner with Red Bull on the engine supply side but not the ownership of the entire engine project as the guys in Stuttgart insisted,” said Motorsport’s Bradley. Ford says it will provide technical assistance in all areas like “engine development … battery cell and electric motor technology, power unit control software and analytics.”

GM’s path is less certain, but it is not approved by the FIA (F1’s governing body) to develop a full-power unit. Instead, intriguingly, it may buys its engines from Honda, which will stay in Formula 1 as an independent engine contractor.

Andretti Cadillac is “taking a very brave approach, and it should be braced for pain, while Ford should have a far smoother entry,” said Bradley.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, of the Netherlands, raises the trophy after winning the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix auto race at Circuit of the Americas, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Austin, Texas.

Honda, Red Bull, Mercedes and Audi are already on the list of FIA-approved engine suppliers for 2026. Given GM’s partnership with Honda in electric vehicle development, it would be a natural for Andretti Cadillac to badge a Honda powerplant.

“Honda will no longer be Red Bull’s partner from 2026. However, it has been approved by the FIA to produce its own 2026 power unit, so I assume this will be the motor that’s rebadged as GM — just as we’ve seen them partner in EVs,” said Bradley.

The good news for GM is that Ford’s entry makes it more likely that F1 will approve Andretti Cadillac’s application. With the exploding interest in the U.S. market, two American manufacturers would be icing on the cake.

“Having both American automotive powerhouses in F1 will really push its needle,” Bradley said. “The real resistance to Andretti-GM comes from the selfishness of rival F1 teams. I think everyone else sees it as a good thing.”

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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