The Red Bull launch in New York, while awkward and chaotic at times, finally revealed the stepping stone the team from Milton Keynes needs to make. For 2026 it is out with Honda and in with Ford as the power unit partner.
The actual car reveal was rather an anti-climax given the livery and chassis looked most similar to its predecessor. Yet Max Verstappen the ‘marketers dream’ stepped up in the moment.
Red Bull new car not the start of the show
“I think our livery has been pretty similar for a couple of years now, but I find it a cool-looking car,” Verstappen said when allegedly seeing the car for the first time.
“It shows the Red Bull colours all over the place. We have had a lot of success like that, so why do we need to change it up a lot? We have a few partners on the car, and a few new partners on the car and that’s what it’s all about.”
However, the Red Bull car launch for 2023 was about a lot more than would meet the eye of a causal observer. With the announcement of Ford as the power unit partner replacing Honda for the new 2026 engine regulations, Christian Horner et al had a tightrope to walk and at times it required the quick thinking of Verstappen to bail them out.
Verstappen reminds everyone of Honda
Having done the big Ford reveal and allowed the American motor giants president to do plenty of marketing about its products, Max piped up to remind us all about the reality for his and the team’s present world championship prospects.
“We are talking about Ford now for 2026 but I also want to say we are still with Honda at the moment, and what they are doing at the moment is incredible,” Verstappen said.
“Without them of course we couldn’t have had the success that we had.
“So we are also very much looking forward to continuing that for the moment and really extracting the most out of that as well before we make the switch for 2026.
Horner details how Red Bull know nothing about the Honda engine
Christian Horner then had his say on how the Honda relationship would work for the next three seasons.
“We have an agreement and great relationship with Honda until the end of 2025.”
“There’s no crossover of IP, all the Honda engines are produced in Japan and everything on the RB Powertrains side is very much focused on 2026.
“So there is a clear Chinese wall between the two activities, but we’re obviously going to be working with Honda over the next few years to achieve the best results that we can.
“They are fully committed to them, so it is very straightforward, and the relationship with Honda conclude at the end of 2025.
“We have a homologated engine, so it’s effectively frozen.
“Honda supply that engine, they own all of the IP, so we don’t see inside the engine or anything like that. We will be doing our best with Honda to try and defend and achieve further race wins and championships.”
Did Honda really leave F1?
To the casual observer this information from Christian Horner almost appears unnecessary, yet the savvy Red Bull boss is priming the pump for an argument set to ensue amongst the FIA 2026 power unit sub-committee.
When Honda announced their withdrawal form Formula One at the end of 2021, they were not really leaving the sport as they continued to supply Red Bull Racing with their FIA ‘frozen’ power unit.
However, Honda never really left, they stepped back. The number of Honda people in the paddock was greatly reduced and gone was the Honda corporate hospitality, the the personnel embedded within the teams remained the same.
There was also a different commercial arrangement which saw Red Bull now footing the bill for the production of the power units supplied to both teams.
Red Bull Powertrains take centre stage
Interestingly, at the start of the 2022 campaign the Milton Keynes entry was listed with the FIA as Oracle Red Bull Racing powered by, Red Bull RBPTH001.
On the rear of the engine cover was a small token sticker containing the letters HRC. This was all the remained to denote Honda’s involvement in the Red Bull Racing team.
Yet less than 12 months later and just prior to the Japanese GP which is sponsored by Honda, Red Bull announced a new enhanced partnership with the Japanese manufacturer. The tiny HRC sticker was replaced by a bold new Honda emblem on the nose cone.
Again a casual onlooker would wonder what was going on. Honda withdraw, Red Bull register for 2022 with their own powertrain registration, then we have a big announcement that Honda are still really part of the setup.
And now to the Chinese Wall
The clue to all this is in Christian Horner’s latest comments at the Red Bull launch where he emphasises the “Chinese Wall” and that Honda and Red Bull Powertrains are completely separate in every way.
For the new 2026 powertrains the FIA have mandated that “new manufacturers” will receive special treatment. This is to compensate them for the current knowledge F1 manufacturers have developed over a number of years which the new participants simply cannot own.
Whilst the exact details have not been finalised, new power unit manufacturers will be allowed more testing time. There is a budget cap to be applied to the amount the manufacturers can spend at certain phases of development and the new entrants will receive some leeway on this too.
Ferrari seek to deny RBPT new manufacturer status
Of course Red Bull Racing find themselves in a bind. They filed their 2022 entry with the FIA as powered by Red Bull Powertrains yet they didn’t design or build the power unit. This was done by Honda.
Ferrari and others have argued Red Bull should not receive “new manufacturer” for 2026 because of the knowledge they have shared with Honda over the years.
This is why Christian Horner is insistent that the intellectual property for their power unit belongs to Honda and is merely badged as a Red Bull Powertrain.
“..they own all of the IP, so we don’t see inside the engine or anything like that.”
Ford playing their part
This is why Honda suddenly re-emerged in a more prominent fashion from the 2022 Japanese GP onwards.
Red Bull are making their pitch to be considered as a new power unit manufacturer and it’s probably a representation of reality, hence the real reason for Horner’s insistence there exists a “Chinese Wall”.
The announcement of Ford as the power unit partner is designed to add to the perception that there is no crossover from Honda and the 2026 Red Bull Powertrain will be an all new design from a party that has never before built an F1 power unit.
Honda are back in F1 loud and clear
Of course Red Bull have seen at some point inside the Honda power unit, just as Audi will see inside the Sauber chassis and mechanicals before 2026.
And it is no mean task to deliver a new Formula One internal combustion engine alone. Many global players like Toyota and BMW have tried with little or no success.
Despite Ferrari’s complaints, the new Ford partnership announcement should now finally put to bed the objections that the Red Bull Powertrain for 2026 is not delivered from a new manufacturer to Formula One.
And by the way, the Oracle Red Bull Racing team as registered with the FIA is powered by….. Honda RBPT
READ MORE: Why the Red Bull car launch was so shambolic
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— Oracle Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) February 3, 2023