Red Bull-Ford partnership rekindles the American brand's "Love-Hate" relationship with Milton Keynes
The Red Bull-Ford partnership appears to be nothing more than a formality at this stage, but for the uninitiated, this is not the first association that the American brand will have with Milton Keynes. The relationship between Ford and Milton Keynes goes back almost 26 years.
It's almost an ironic return for the brand to Milton Keynes after almost a 20-year hiatus from F1. In this feature, let's take a look at the storied relationship between the American brand and Milton Keynes.
Stewart GP (The careful observer) (1997-99)
The relationship began when Jackie Stewart's team Stewart GP joined the F1 grid. The team was a Ford-supported works team as the American brand dipped its toes in the world of Formula 1. Stewart GP's three-year lifecycle was very impressive for a new team on the grid.
Despite being plagued by reliability in the first year, the team was still able to secure a podium with future Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello. The team finished the season 6th in the championship, a commendable result for a team in its first season in F1.
The second season saw the team make further improvements as the team finished the season 5th in the championship. The 1999 F1 season was the best for the team where it scored multiple podiums and even a race with Johnny Herbert. The team finished the season 4th in the championship in what was a sensational performance by a young team.
Looking at the upward trajectory that the team was on convinced Ford to buy the team from Jackie Stewart. Instead of naming the team Ford, the British brand Jaguar was used and hence Jaguar Racing was born.
Jaguar Racing (The owner) (2000-04)
Ford's journey as a team owner was nothing more than a rude awakening for the American brand. The very first season featured Eddie Irvine, the championship runner-up of the previous season, who teamed up with Johnny Herbert. The season was a complete disaster as the team accrued only four points in the entire season and finished 9th in the championship.
The 2001 F1 season was not much better either as the team will finish the season 8th in the championship with a surprise podium for Irvine. The 2002 F1 season was not much different for the team either. Again, there was a slight improvement as the team finished the season 7th in the championship (with another one-off podium for Irvine).
By 2004, the American brand had run out of patience. With the results not improving and the team making a home in P7 in the championship in the last few years, Ford pulled the plug and sold the team to the Austrian drinks company named Red Bull.
Red Bull (The disgruntled departure) (2005-2025)
It was a disgruntled departure for Ford. The brand invested a lot in facilities and infrastructure, but when that did not translate into results, the F1 journey ended. Red Bull bought the facilities at Milton Keynes and fast forward almost 20 years, and the team has changed the landscape of F1. The team won its first race in 2009 and its first title in 2010.
The team dominated the sport for four seasons from 2010-2013 with Sebastian Vettel at the top. After the inability to compete with the mighty Mercedes power unit during the turbo-hybrid era, the team made a return to the top in 2021 with Max Verstappen winning the title.
The 2022 F1 season saw the team go one better as it sealed both the constructors' and drivers' titles in a dominant fashion. With the current power unit partnership with Honda ending at the end of the 2025 F1 season, the team was looking for a partner for the 2026 F1 season.
After failed talks with Porsche and Honda, Red Bull zeroed in on Ford in what would mark a return to the sport for the American brand after more than two decades of absence.
Red Bull-Ford (The triumphant return) (2026-TBD)
The Red Bull-Ford partnership will take shape in 2026 as the American brand will be looking to make amends for the not-so-successful stint in the 2000s. Ford will not be providing any technical expertise as the Red Bull powertrains division will handle the development of the power unit for the regulations in 2026.
After almost two decades of absence, Ford will be rekindling the "Love-Hate" relationship it had with Milton Keynes, a place that was a symbol of failure for the brand in the 2000s but could just be a symbol of success this time around.