Even though the Ford brand hasn’t been involved in Formula 1 since 2004, to this day, Ford in partnership with Cosworth remains the third most successful engine manufacturer in F1 history – only behind Mercedes and Ferrari.
Ford is set to make its return to the sport in 2026, partnering with Red Bull Powertrains after Ford sold its F1 operation to the same energy drinks manufacturer in 2004, calling time on a successful history in F1 aided mostly by the Cosworth DFV engine.
In partnership with the highly successful Red Bull Racing constructor, there exists a prime chance for Ford to reignite its motorsport presence and once again become known as a major F1 force.
Its early days of success formed as a result of a financial partnership between Ford and Cosworth Engineering, which led to the creation of the now legendary V8 Cosworth DFV engine that would power the Lotus 49 in 1967.
The engine made its debut at the third race of the 1967 F1 season at Zandvoort and saw immediate success. Graham Hill put his DFV-powered Lotus 49 on pole position by over half a second and team-mate Jim Clark won the grand prix after Hill suffered from gearbox problems. Despite the mechanical issues, it was apparent that the engine was competitive, compact and light.
The Ford-Cosworth DFV powered Lotus to 2nd in the Constructors’ Championship and Jim Clark to 3rd in the Drivers Championship, with Clarke winning three further races in the 1967 season with the Lotus-Ford.
Ford Britain’s Walter Haynes quickly began to have concerns that the Ford name could be discredited if Lotus continued to win against lesser opposition and by August 1967 it was agreed that the engine would be available for sale to other racing teams via Cosworth Engineering.
Thus began the dominant era of DFV-powered cars in Formula 1, becoming the single most successful F1 race engine of all time, powering its way to 155 wins from 1967 up until its last race in 1983.
This was not just a piece of history reserved for the biggest teams of the time in the paddock though, as its relative affordability meant that the DFV was used by teams both big and small. In addition to Lotus; McLaren, Matra, Brabham, March, Surtees, Tyrrell, Hesketh, Lola, Williams, Penske, Wolf and Ligier were also some of the teams that have used the engine.
The 1968 F1 season saw Graham Hill win the world championship in the Lotus 49 while Ford-Cosworth-powered cars won eleven out of the twelve races that year and every race in 1969, aiding Jackie Stewart to the world championship that year.
Ford power continued to prove a dominant force throughout the 70s, even as the competition from Ferrari power grew approaching the 80s. In addition to Stewart’s three world championships, Ford powered Jochen Rindt (1970), Emmerson Fittipaldi (1972 and 1974), James Hunt (1976), Mario Andretti (1978), Alan Jones (1980), Nelson Piquet (1981) and Keke Rosberg (1982) to Formula 1 World Championships.
But the 1980s marked an end of an era for Ford. The final win for the V8 DFV came as late as 1983, when Rosberg claimed victory in the Monaco Grand Prix, just before Formula 1 entered the turbo era in the mid 1980’s.
The relationship between Cosworth and Ford remained strong, creating a number of turbocharged and normally aspirated engines, ultimately leading to the success of the Ford Zetec R V8 which powered Benetton’s Michael Schumacher to his first F1 World Championship in 1994.
In 1996 Ford and Cosworth reaffirmed their commitment to Formula 1, teaming up with long-time Ford partner, Jackie Stewart and his son Paul in the all-new Stewart Grand Prix F1 team. Stewart GP would run the Ford Zetec-R V10 in their debut F1 season in 1997.
Ford had acquired Cosworth Racing by 1999, which cemented the special relationship between the two long-standing racing partners. For Stewart GP, this led to a gamble on the development of a new engine. That season’s car was more competitive than the two years before, finishing the season fourth in the Constructors’ championship. Johnny Herbert picked up Stewart GP’s one and only race win, that season, at a rain-soaked European Grand Prix.
Ford increased its commitment to F1 and brought the team out. While the inside of the car continued as the Ford-Cosworth pairing, the team became known as Jaguar Racing from September 1999 onwards, as Ford opted to promote their premium car brand. It was a rocky start for the newly named team though as they were not able to match the results that Stewart GP had in the 1999 season, finishing ninth in the Constructors’ Championship.
Their poor results continued into 2002 when Ford’s board of directors were beginning to have major doubts about the benefits of running an expensive F1 team, especially as it was not running under the name of the parent brand.
Ultimately, this led to staff redundancies and budget reductions for the 2003 season with a two-year time frame given to display any benefits of running the team. Under new management, the team began to make improvements aided by a new driver line-up of Mark Webber and Antonio Pizzonia. Jaguar achieved seventh in the Constructors’ championship as they did in 2002.
2004 was the last season for Jaguar, with little improvement in results. Ford could no longer make a compelling business case for any of its brands to compete in F1, therefore, opting to sell the operation. Red Bull purchased the team on the final day of its sale, naming the team Red Bull Racing and fielding the 2005 chassis and engine that the Jaguar team were set to use.
Despite the fact that the final seasons of Ford’s presence in F1 were unsuccessful, it now comes full circle as it looks to reinvent its presence at the highest level of motorsport competition.
So Ford’s “heritage” in F1 is basically putting money into others who build engines (Cosworth/Zetec/Honda)?