As you’ll read in one of the news pieces below, the F1 world has been all atwitter, over the recent announcement that Ford is officially returning to Formula One as the engine “supplier” for Red Bull. Yes, I put supplier in air quotes because the concept of engine suppliers in F1 has long been somewhat misleading.
Obviously, Ford officially returning to Formula One is a big deal since, despite only being an official supplier from 1967-2004, they still rank third overall in wins with 176 and are only eclipsed by Mercedes (213) and Ferrari (243). Amazingly, 155 of Ford’s wins came from a single engine design the DFV, but that’s really where the air quotes start…since that’s arguably not really a Ford.
Now, before you start firing off those poison-pen emails telling me what an ignorant dufus I am (no argument), my point here is that when you really get down to it the DFV was a Cosworth. The brainchild of engine boffins Keith Duckworth and Mike Costin, the DFV engine was really one of the first “nameplate” engines in Formula One, i.e. an engine built by a specialist house with financial support by a major manufacturer. And, arguably, one of the best investments Ford ever made! So, while the name on the cam covers said “Ford”, it could just as easily have said “Maserati” or “Daihatsu”, had the money been right.
In fact, if you look back over the past 50 years of Formula One, a lot of the “manufacturer” engines were really in name only, having been designed and built by cottage outfits like Cosworth, Hart and Ilmor.
And speaking of Ilmor, even today a number of F1 engines are quasi-nameplate. All the Mercedes engines are designed and built in the UK in the Ilmor factory that Mercedes purchased in 2001, after company founder Paul Morgan was killed in a plane crash. In fact, even the Aston Martin engine is a Mercedes, which is arguably an Ilmor! Likewise, Red Bull has their own powertrain development company now (as a result of Honda’s departure), and essentially this new Ford deal will see the Blue Oval pour buckets of cash into this new powertrain project, but likely have little direct engineering involvement other than sharing its expertise in advanced battery technology for the new energy recovery systems that come into effect in 2026.
But, make no mistake, the above diatribe is in no way intended to be a diminution of the significance of Ford’s announcement. Come 2026, we’re finally going to see a real battle of the ages, between all the major heavies—Ford, GM(most likely), Mercedes, Ferrari, Audi, Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Renault and most likely Porsche. What a field, right?! But keep in mind, maybe only a third(?) of those prestigious names will actually be physically engineering their own powertrains. The rest will be carrying on the now time-honored tradition of Nameplate Engineering, pioneered by Cosworth and Ford… way back in 1967.
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