Aston Martins in Formula 1?

In the last 18 months I have mentioned several times on this blog that Aston Martin might want to come into F1 with Mercedes V6 engines, badged as Aston-Martins. This may seem a radical idea, but it fits in entirely with the way that the automotive industry is now working, with car manufacturers sharing all manner of different technologies. Aston Martin has been controlled since the end of 2012 by the Italian private equity firm InvestIndustrial, which is run by businessman Andrea Bonomi. He was well aware of the potential value in automotive brands, as he is involved with the development of the planned Ferrari theme park in Spain. InvestIndustrial was originally founded by the Bonomi and Benetton families and has enjoyed much success with its investments.

I heard last year that there was a plan for an Aston Martin F1 project, which would have involved none other than Flavio Briatore, the disgraced former team principal of the Renault F1 team, who was drummed out of the sport after the Singapore scandal in 2009. The word is that the investors decided they wanted more of a James Bond image and Briatore did not fit in at all. However, it seems that InvestIndustrial concluded that in order to achieve its strategic goals of doubling Aston Martin sales to 7,500 by 2018, it realised that it needed to do more than upgrade the company’s ageing products, notably the DB9 and the Vantage, and add new ideas, notably an SUV to compete with products from Porsche and Bentley. In order to achieve this the strategy was agreed to offer Mercedes Benz a five percent share in the business, in exchange for automotive technology.

In the autumn of 2014 InvestIndustria announced that Andy Palmer would become the CEO of Aston Martin and that Simon Sproule, the vice president of communications at Tesla Motors, would become the company’s chief marketing officer. Palmer and Sproule had previously worked together at Nissan, where they cooked up the idea of promoting the Infiniti brand by sponsoring Red Bull Racing. This was controversial because it meant that Infiniti got much of the publicity, while Renault did not get the recognition it deserved for the F1 engines.

The latest rumours link Aston Martin to a supply of badged Mercedes engines for Red Bull Racing, which would mate Red Bull chassis technology with Mercedes engines and act as a way to market Aston Martin across the globe. A month ago in the JSBM newsletter I wrote that “rumours have also suggested that the private equity company InvestIndustrial, which owns Aston Martin, is trying to put together a deal to have an Aston Martin-branded chassis, powered with a rebadged Mercedes engine.”

53 thoughts on “Aston Martins in Formula 1?

  1. Intriguing possibility Joe. Would they enter as a start up, purchase an existing team, or heaven forbid, begin the customer car era along with Haas???

  2. Yes it would be good. Never understood why Fiat do not run a second team as either Alfa or Maserati. The Lancia name could be revived but unfortunately their road cars these day are rubbish

  3. Are Mercedes willing to allow some other company to, perhaps, get the glory for a win with their engines? I believe that Renault lost out on a lot of positive publicity by allowing all the kudos to go to Red Bull during their successful period.

  4. What would be really positive would be if Aston used their resources to use Cosworth to build a new engine. This seems like taking a shortcut.

  5. Martini Williams Aston Martin… Who wants to bet Daniel Craig will be popping up at a few races this year

  6. Indeed Joe some positive stuff would be good, just a question badged as Aston Martin would that engine be a B spec as far as software goes or would they be allowed to do their own mapping, i know the hardware would be the same just a thought

  7. Excellent, now we just need VAG to step up and joint as a full on manufacturer with one of their brands. What are the chances, Joe?

  8. With Aston Martin starting to use AMG-developed engines, it makes sense from a marketing point of view.

  9. Another pointless marketing exercise. Why would Aston Martin need this?

    Can’t you write about the absolute disgrace which is MacLaren these day So?

    1. Why is McLaren a disgrace? Did it not perhaps cross your mind that the thing at the back of the McLaren with the word Honda written on it, might be the root of the current problems?

      1. They are a disgrace for getting into bed with Honda. There is no shortage of knowledge up and down the pitlane of how bad Honda were in the BAR years, and I am sure you must know this too. I’ve been reading in the DT this week of how Honda are repeating this again at Woking.

        1. What a lot of tosh. Honda, in case you did not notice, is the second largest automobile company in Japan and the eighth largest in the world (depending on the criteria used). They have a solid record of creating innovative and successful cars and they have enjoyed vast success in all forms of motor racing. They struggled in F1 in the BAR days, but that does not mean that the next generation of engineers are going to be useless. We will have to see how they do this time around, but the company has the resources, the brains and the ambition to be successful in F1 and to dismiss them in such a way is just plain rude.

          1. You believe their PR too much Joe.

            For the record, I will give examples of how stupid they were at BAR, and are now repeating at McLaren.

            1. Honda filled the team with kids just out of Uni who had no experience of racing, no idea at all. Huge amounts of time would be wasted by having to explain everything to them in performance meetings. And they changed them every 12 months, so this would go on year after year..

            2. Honda were obsessed with the engine being the highest revving in F1, despite the team repeatedly asking them to drop it and make it more driveable.

            3. Honda are very arrogant, and anything not invented in Japan was discarded. For the whole time there, they insisted on running their own telemetry system separate from the teams chassis telemetry despite there being a weight penalty for doing so.

            There’s more, but that will do.

            1. It does not detract from the fact that they are a hugely successful company. No matter how hard you try it is not going to stop Hondas driving past your house because the company builds good cars. We will see how they do in F1 but writing them off is just plain silly.

              1. I am sure you are familiar with the famous quote “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.

  10. Hope they don’t take 30 odd years to become competitive, like the DBR4’s! (I’d stick the engine in the back this time!)

  11. Fans are already complaining that the F-1 is becoming to commercial (GPDA Survey). Everybody will know that the Aston Martin engine is a Merc. What next : rebadged works cars for small teams ?

  12. OK, Joe –so you’re saying that trading sucking at the back of grid in F-1 is better than winning at LeMans???? I’d like to be trying to sell that to the board…

    SC

  13. It would be a positive story for F1, but I’m not sure how I feel about it. For me, the sport is about people that want to go racing, and having a car badged Lotus that has absolutely nothing to do with the people at Lotus, will always feel fake to me. It makes a mockery of the name, even soiles it. And now Aston Martin. I’m not sure it’s a good thing.

  14. Joe, thanks for the great entertainment in Knightsbridge on Tuesday.

    There are reports that the Aston badged engines will be powering Red Bull cars next year. Is there any substance to that?

  15. I know, as do most of my friends who follow F1, is that Red Bull is powered by Renault. Those who don’t follow F1 don’t care.

    Rebadging doesn’t fool anyone. Those who are interested know and those who don’t don’t care. Doesn’t it dilute both brands? Those who know that the Aston Martin F1 engine is a Merc will ask why are Mercedes allowing their championship winning engine to be rebranded this way – it doesn’t bring Mercedes anything and why don’t AM build its own F1 engine – don’t they have the expertise?

    Didn’t Dave Richards try and get an F1 entry when he was Chairman of AM?

  16. So would the combined new entity be “Redbull/Aston Martin/Mercedes Racing”? And how does Redbull scupper their 2016 contract with Renault? Unless, of course, Renault buys Toro Rosso and makes it a factory team which you have suggested in previous missives. Your thoughts?

  17. Considering the Infiniti success, I wonder if badging Williams’ customer engine supply was considered? There would be great synergy there, the ‘Best of British’ brand image, Bond & Martini, and remaining independent.

    I can only think that they want more exposure with Red Bull (like a title sponsor), and perhaps broaden their customer base? Not that many younger people can afford an Aston (that’s not second hand, anyhow).

  18. Well you’ve floated this so I take it as a reasonable proposition…..
    Bring it on is all I can say. Not a truly notable previous contender, but bring it on nonetheless.

    1. And, quite by-the-by, you were looking nicely relaxed when TK walked in and interrupted you chatting with Mr Herbert and Sir PH and his Lady wife…..

  19. Would the rebadged Mercedes engine not be considered to be supplied by Mercedes, and so they don’t have to ask the FIA to supply more than 3 teams ?

  20. They have had a VIP tour of at least one F1 team with a view to buy in If not buy out. Not a million miles away from where the action is this weekend

  21. Might RBR get out of the last year of their Renault contract by selling them Torro Roso for a reduced amount?

  22. Oooh! interesting. Shame we can’t see a similar deal so Alfa power next years Haas cars.

  23. One would think that venturing into F1 as Aston Martin is no logical business case, as shown by so many works teams before (we all know the examples). Their presence in the FIA WEC races, with cars looking similar to their road cars, looks so much more logical.
    But, then again, the WEC lacks the media attention and fan base that F1 has.

  24. While it is true to say consumers do not really care where their car is made or by which conglomerate, there is a general movement towards brand credibility being important.

    Consumers are marketed to constantly so they are far more cynical about this kind of stuff than before.

    In mass-market probably doesn’t matter, but for AM I don’t know…

    Not sure how this would help AM’s credibility with its customer base. The ones that like the techy details will know its a fake F1 entry and the ones who just buy the car off the lot in Los Angeles don’t watch F1 anyway.

    Also Red Bull doesn’t seem to have very compatible brand values with the James-Bond-vibe AM trades on.

    Then again they did the Cygnet so maybe AM not that precious with its brand!

    Were this a deal for Toro Rosso to run Nissan branded Renault engines or Red Bull Infinitis then makes more sense somehow.

    M-B sells diesel engines to Infiniti for some of their euro-cars, they might as well just do the Red Bull Infiniti with a Mercedes engines.

    1. The ones that know the techy details will probably also know the current V8 in the Vantage model is just two Ford 2.0l in-line 4’s (a la ‘Mondeo’) welded together and the flag-ship V12 can trace ancestry back to the early 90’s… there is little technologically cutting edge about AM’s image to anyone IMO. It is about brute performance unleashed in a fairly raw manner whilst on’e toes are nestled in finest Wilton carpets.

      F1 involvement in any form promotes the racing association or AM and this deal would be a massive boost for the brand. Also stops the Merc works team getting complacent in the chassis department AND keeps jobs secure at Merc HPE which are a bonus…

  25. What can I say, ahead of the pack again…..

    I just feel the brand images do not seem to align very well though. I dont see Red Bull as an upmarket Bond esque brand though

    Red Bull and Astons ????

    Red Bull and Nissan Jukes seems more like it to me, but what would I know….

    DIssmissed out of hand on the James Allen blog, but your piece does have a very credible sounding back story.

  26. MB must be pretty confident they can ‘out-chassis’ RB if this is the case!
    Who gets dropped from the engine supply stable then? Presumably Lotus ready to be bought by Renault then?
    Are RB not concerned they’ll get a b-grade engine in the same way Mclaren/Ron said that you can’t win unless you’re the primary team of an engine suppier?

  27. its interesting you are normally very scathing in your descriptions of private equity firms, when talking about cvc, what makes this bunch any better?

  28. Joe

    Your thoughts several months ago on this theme seemed good then and look even more logical now given the dire straights that Renault and Honda are in.

    The equalisation of engine power seems to have been a Holly Grail in F1 for many years and one or two engine manufacturers with, if needs be, differently ‘badged’ engines would seem to address that.

    You have repeatedly said that this would be a good way forward. Perhaps somebody will start to listen or perhaps, just perhaps, they already have.

  29. it absolutely amazes me that any brand that builds engines, or wishes to be seen as doing so, would want to publicly align themselves with this team. So they can get zero credit if any winning is done? And then publicly pilloried if there aren’t constant World Championships? And why would Aston want their image aligned in any event with a sugary garbage product with an image to match? Very strange news to me. If I’m Aston Martin, I’m talking to Frank Williams.

    1. Keith has it spot on … Aston Martin image united with Williams’ history and dogged style screams of the Right Stuff to me. Whatever DM might think his mega bucks entitle him too Williams have always embodied F1 in my mind!

  30. Not sure being involved with what is a pretty naff drinks company brand would be good for Aston’s image. Come to that being associated with F1 not so great either.

  31. “The word is that the investors decided they wanted more of a James Bond image and Briatore did not fit in at all.”

    Seems to me Briatore fits in perfectly:

  32. Does this make sense for Red Bull though?

    Surly even Red Bull will struggle to beat a works team (with the same engine) and the best they can hope for is second place.

    If they want to win they have to be the effective works team and either be patient while Renault catches up (which history suggests they will) or bring in another engine builder. Otherwise they sell to Renault, sell to someone else, or pack up and go home.

    I struggle to see the point (for Red Bull) in putting an Aston Martin sticker on the car and coming second.

    This must be a hurry up to Renault or Audi surly.

    1. I guess the question is whether Mateschitz’s near-term interests are best served by competing for podiums rather than outright wins. Martini are getting plenty of exposure from their Williams deal and if Mateschitz can end up with a competitive car in full RB livery at zero cost by getting Aston Martin to pay for the engines then it makes a lot of sense. Even if they have a major turnaround, Renault seem so far back that at best they’ll only be on a par with customer Merc engines next season anyway. Why wait to see if they do when you can get someone else to buy it off the shelf?

      Perhaps he’s just looking to get the best he can in the interim before selling up.. possibly to Aston Martin or even VW when they’re ready to play?

  33. To do this, Aston need a team that does not have it’s own imposing brand identity, is ideally aligned with Mercedes already, has room to accomdate Aston marketing-wise and which is on a general upswing in competitiveness. A British competition license and identify may not go amiss either, to help brand alignment.

    Any decision other than Williams is the wrong one.

  34. I struggled to see why Aston Martin might want to be part of F1 given that Le Mans and endurance racing are what springs to mind when you think of them and racing, but … I had forgotten their brief foray into F1 in 1959/60 so they have some F1 ‘history’ of sorts …

    Like most others here I am not sure exactly what benefit they would get in racing terms – after all almost no-one ever calls the engine in the Red Bull an Infinity because we all know it is clearly a Renault!. From the business side I suppose the trade of shares for ‘technology’ makes much more sense as a small company like AM will always struggle to move their engine technology forward without such a partnership.

  35. Surely the message in all of this is if a global brand, Aston Martin, is seemingly interested in being involved a global sport environment, F1, whether with Red Bull or anybody else, nearly everybody benefits. Whether their interest is pursued is another matter.

    If it was a simple exercise to raise the profile of Aston Martin there are few losers.

    In the meantime Aston Martin and F1 and also Mercedes and RB have received extra coverage. That Renault have even more pressure placed on them is a given in this situation.

    The only looser in this whole scenario, from my limited perspective, is those with an interest in F1 being devalued as a Global Sport and Brand Platform.

    Seems good to me.

    S

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