Zak Brown visits Red Bull factory with shock McLaren partnership rumoured
McLaren CEO Zak Brown has reportedly visited the Red Bull factory to meet over a surprise potential power unit partnership from the 2026 season.
A Red Bull spokesperson confirmed to The Independent that Brown has visited their factory, with McLaren facing several options over power unit supply when Formula 1’s technical regulations undergo a significant shake-up in 2026.
These talks appear surprising given the open tension between Brown and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner last season in the wake of Red Bull’s breach of the 2021 budget cap.
Brown said breaches of the cap amounted to “cheating” in a letter he wrote to FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, and while he did not name Red Bull specifically, Horner did not take kindly to the not-so-subtle hints in the letter, later claiming the comments from the paddock and social media surrounding the team led to widespread ramifications, including staff members’ children being bullied at school.
A tense press conference involving the two team bosses followed in Austin, but while Brown said after the season finished that he stands by his letter, this visit to Red Bull makes it seem the teams may be willing to reconcile and work together in future – with McLaren also believed to be in talks with Honda over a 2026 power unit deal.
There is still plenty of time ahead for the team to decide their next steps, however, with the McLaren CEO saying the team are in a good place with their current suppliers, Mercedes.
“We’re very happy with our relationship with Mercedes and everyone at HPP [High Performance Powertrains],” Brown recently told media including PlanetF1.com.
“They’ve done an excellent job, it’s a great collaboration.
“Andrea [Stella, team principal] and I are now starting to think about 2026 and beyond, we’re in no rush, things are developing fast within the sport.
“I think it’s exciting, there’s many manufacturers looking to participate in Formula 1. I can’t recall the last time there was that amount of manufacturers.
“So Andrea and I will work through the year to figure out what we think is going to make us most competitive in ’26 and beyond. Right now, we’re laser focused on ’23. But we’ve got some time to decide.”
Red Bull one of several options for McLaren from 2026
Even though Brown has said he is happy with the current deal McLaren has with Mercedes over customer power units, as with anything, it is often the right thing to do to shop around before committing to something so substantial for the team’s future.
With the power unit regulations changing dramatically from the 2026 season and the confirmation of Red Bull-Ford’s partnership, there are multiple options available to the teams left needing to purchase engines for their cars.
Should McLaren not opt to go with Mercedes or Red Bull-Ford, Honda are still listed on the FIA’s official entry list as a power unit provider from the 2026 season, though they do not currently have a partner team from that season.
They will continue to work with Red Bull through to 2025, with Honda’s name now re-appearing on the Red Bull Powertrains units this season, but the Japanese marque will be in talks with teams over a deal to supply engines from the following year.
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Their highly-anticipated reunion with McLaren did not go as planned in the mid-2010s, however, so there may be understandable reluctance from the team’s side over another deal so soon after their last.
Customer options will also be available through Ferrari, Renault and fellow newcomers Audi, who will enter the sport as a factory team after they complete their majority takeover of Sauber in time for 2026.
As it stands, only Haas, Aston Martin and Williams will also need customer power unit deals from 2026 onwards, with the other teams being spoken for through factory deals and AlphaTauri being catered for through Red Bull-Ford.
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