There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks after McLaren losing Vodafone and looking to Mexico for money. It has been suggested that the signing of Sergio Perez was decided in order to give the McLaren marketing people the opportunity to delve into new markets in central and south America. These rumours need to be properly examined.
Firstly it is fair to say that Telmex and the other Mexican sponsors that appeared on Sauber in 2011 and 2012 got to that position without paying large sums of money. The deal was struck in the autumn of 2010 and at that time the team was in dire need of cash. A year earlier, you may recall, BMW announced that it was pulling out of F1. Peter Sauber agreed to buy it back, on the basis that BMW would pay the bills for the first year. The search was thus on for money for 2011 and Perez and the Mexicans popped up at the right moment.It was probably the only sensible deal in town, but that does not mean that there were truckloads of cash involved. Carlos Slim Jr, who runs Telmex, has not shown any tendencies to throw money around, preferring to encourage Mexican firms to get involved, presumably as B2B deals.
What is clear from all of this is that McLaren is not going to want to swoop in and pick up the kind of money that was on offer to Sauber. Perhaps the silver-tongued ones at Woking can talk some of the Mexican firms into digging deeper into their pockets, but Telmex is going to have to dig very deep to replace Vodafone, even if the UK telecommunications firm is looking at downsizing its sponsorship. The firm has been with McLaren since 2007 and the current deal was agreed in 2010. It runs until the end of 2013. The deal is believed to be worth in excess of $75 million a year to the team and Vodafone has been doing some work to figure out its sponsorship strategies, which seem to suggest that it is downsizing a lot of its activities. It remains to be seen whether the F1 budget gets a haircut. If it does, McLaren is pretty well-placed with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to be a replacement. GSK is charging forwards with a policy to double its revenues in emerging markets, as it chases to catch up with its rivals in places like India and China. With revenues flat in its traditional markets in Europe and the United States, GSK is looking to fresh fields where drug companies are falling over one another to win market share, with some pretty impressive price-cutting going on. These are the markets where F1 is strong.
It is worth noting also that a few weeks ago GSK ended its long-running association with the English Premier League soccer competition, which it has supported for 20 years. The company said that the move followed a change of strategy that will see it investing more on research into the nutritional impact on athletes’ performance.
The McLaren-GSK relationship goes beyond sponsorship as the pharmaceutical and consumer healthcare company is working with McLaren in what it calls a “ground-breaking collaboration” which will apply McLaren’s winning expertise to the needs of GSK, the aim being to help it to function more efficiently with more efficient planning processes and better modelling tools to drive faster decision-making. This includes the construction of a learning facility called the ‘McLaren GSK Centre for Applied Performance’, which is under construction at McLaren’s Headquarters in Woking. The relationship has led to GSK sponsorship for the team from Lucozade, Maximuscle and Boost.
Among the brands that GSK has in its portfolio are a number of toothpaste brands, such as Macleans and Aquafresh, anti-smoking products such as Nicorette and Niquitin, drinks products such as Horlicks and Ribena and remedies from Beechams and Panadol. Not all of these would fit with F1, but there is clearly potential for sponsorships.
In the interim Sauber is believed to be working on sponsorship deals to expand its portfolio beyond the Mexicans. It remains to be seen what will happen with the second driver. The Mexicans are keen to see Esteban Gutierrez in F1, but the team is weighing up whether a more experienced driver would bring better results.
In the meantime, Lotus has announced some one-off sponsorship for the United States GP promoting Angry Birds Star Wars, a new game that is a partnership between award winning programmers Rovio – founders of the chart topping Angry Birds game and Lucasfilm – the creators of iconic films Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. The relationship between Angry Birds and Lotus F1 Team began in Monaco this year.
Lucasfilm has just been purchased by the Walt Disney Company for $4.05 billion.