Naming conventions… and ducks

It is a quiet day in the forest, a very agreeable place to be when one is not at a noisy racing circuit. The marshes are still and the pond is doing a good impersonation of being a mirror. Even the coypu are staying in their underground nests and not splashing about and the egrets are off doing whatever it is that egrets do at this time of year. The mallards – over here they are called colverts – are off dabbling as dabbling ducks do. The weather is getting warmer (perhaps) but this may be a micro-climate caused by the first F1 car launches.

These affairs are very bad for global warming as they release a huge amount of hot air into the atmosphere, as all of those involved spout forth about their hopes and ambitions, no-one really having the faintest clue whether the cars will be better or worse than last year. Car launches are warm and pleasant events, but one should never believe a word spoken, as it is all just bla-bla-bla. The cold hard truth will arrive if not in the testing in Bahrain, then in the first three races, wherever they may be – and whenever they may be.

I spoke to Stefano Domenicali last week and he was very keen to say that F1 will be doing everything possible to keep to the schedule announced, but admits that there needs to be some flexibility if the dates have to change. There was a certain amount of irony about the conversation as he was sitting in Italy because it has not been possible in the five weeks he has had the job to get to London and set up shop there. But Stefano is one of the good guys and his enthusiasm for the sport is unbounded. He is excited about his new job, a little surprised at having been offered it, but delighted to be back in the business in which, as he put it, he was “born”.

I’ve known him for more years than I care to remember, going back to the days when he was not the big banana at Maranello and our paths would cross in F1 paddocks around the world. I’m a big fan of the way he does business. It’s so refreshing compared to some of the folk who have gone before him in the F1 world. There are still a few sharks and charlatans, and a number of snake oil salesmen (best not to name names), but with the corporate age, such behaviour has had to improve. This means that the level of mumbo jumbo has risen, as it tends to do whenever corporations are involved in anything, but people tend to be a little better behaved.

Well, in most cases…

One of the side-effects of the corporate squaddies marching into the F1 trenches is that the purity of race names is quietly going to pieces. Formula 1 was always good at maintaining standards. They do not change car liveries every other day (like NASCAR does). I suppose that if a NASCAR fan can remember the number of his hero he can just about follow the action, even if one day the car is green, the next pink. The sponsors rotate in and out and so unless you know that 24 is William Byron (no relation to the poet) and that #48 is Alex Bowman, it doesn’t make that much sense. I haven’t done the homework but there are almost no full-season sponsors left, with the possible exception of FedEx (Denny Hamlyn). I thought that Joey Logano might be as well, with his big Shell/Pennzoil deal, but sometimes his car appears in AAA colours, sometimes with AutoTrader backing and occasionally with PPG as his primary sponsor.

But it is when one gets to the names of the races that the Americans go further over the top than Kim Kardashian West (Is there a Kim Kardashian East?). No-one is ever going to use the full name of races such as the “Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard, powered by Florida Georgia Line” or “Go Bowling at the Glen” and this nasty practice has been transferred to Australia where the Bathurst 1000 has had to go by the shameful name of the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 for some years, although thankfully that deal has now ended.

Marketing folk may refer to the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, but normal human beings will call the race “The Indy 500”, although the sponsors do sometimes complain that no-one is taking them seriously.

Formula 1 has avoided making such things overly-complicated, allowing title sponsorships, but trying to avoid the names of title and “presenting” sponsors. The policy has always been to have a race that is a national event, the British Grand Prix, for example. With that you knew where you stood. If it was the Shell Oils British Grand Prix that was fine, but it was not “presented by Burger King” or “powered by Tacky Tyres”. F1 was about high-rolling big corporate names. It was part of the image of the sport. 

Last year with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an urgent need for a few different names at events because they were either at the same circuit or in the same country as other races and one could not really have the Italian Grand Prix I, II and III. There was a time when the United States had a United States GP and a United States (West) GP and there were a few oddities along the way such as the Pescara Grand Prix and the Swiss GP being held at Dijon, but the only really commercial race title was the Caesars Palace (no apostrophe) GP in Las Vegas, a title that was allowed because Bernie Ecclestone was keen to get more F1 action in America and was rather partial to the green ink used in printing dollar bills.

So last year the sanctity of F1 naming conventions changed and we had the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone and events in Styria, Tuscany, Emilio Romagna, Eifel and Sakhir. Needs must.

But this year it is rather alarming to see that rather than a Brazilian GP or a Mexican GP, we will (in theory) have a Grand Prix of Sao Paulo and a Grand Prix of Mexico City. Does it matter? These are the people paying for the races and so why would the countries get a free ride? That is a fair point, but I cannot help but think that this undermines the gravitas that F1 races have always enjoyed.  And I have heard that the race in Imola is planning to be called the Made in Italy and Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix. I do hope this is not the case but I can already hear some F1 folk spouting on about “my Kicker Shoes Benetton-Maserati being awesome today in the Made in Italy and Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, presented by Jelly Babies”.

Yes, I do understand that the Italian government agency ITC has kicked in some cash to promote its “Made in Italy” campaigns, but I see it as being the start of a long slippery slope towards the Kangaroo Meat Dog Food Grand Prix of Australia and other such aberrations…

Commercialism and professionalism are two very different things, and I’d hate to see F1 forgetting that in pursuit of the required greenbacks.

31 thoughts on “Naming conventions… and ducks

  1. The chase for greenbacks is never ending, and if the sport’s survival is predicated on bizarre naming conventions so be it. Especially in these stressed out virus impacted times.

  2. Har ha ha….. I can understand your concern, Joe, but evan though I’ve been following all sorts of racing (n0t horse racing!), since Stirling and Fangio days, funnilly enough I don’t care what they call the GPs.
    PK.

  3. Enjoyed reading that Joe. I’m impressed. Not every F1 enthusiast can differentiate between Dabbling Ducks and other varieties.. Keep up the good work.

    Back on track … hopefully literally. What F1 event given current circumstances, will eventually kick of the start to this season. Apologies for some “soccer speak” content there.

  4. The income of F1 has halved, one engine supplier is leaving, one manufacturer has removed their name from the car, another manufacturer has switched from majority to minority owner, two teams are skint, one team is for sale – and you worry about race naming ??!!

    1. I’ve written plenty about the other problems. The job of an F1 journalist is not to please grumpy old men like your good self, but to inform, entertain and engage with potential new fans.

  5. Ya done GOOD with your comments on the naming of the Racing of Here and There. Amused, I was. As well as how much of your tongue you stuffed into your cheek. Impressed, i was!

  6. I entirely share your apprehension that the sport is at the start of “a long slippery slope” towards image-harming commercial overkill (see exclusive Pay-TV deals), instead of growing even bigger via proper brand caring / development

  7. Good to know that you have a friend in high places. Domenicali always came over as a decent bloke, just hope he can stay that way with the inevitable pressures that will come from his paymasters, I believe Brawn has been a disappointment in that regard. He will, at least have had plenty of practice from his time at Ferrari who always publicly heap s*** on the wrong person. Sadly, I fear that Leclerc is already being lined up.
    The die was cast for the “commercialisation” of F1 those many years ago when Messrs E and M conspired to take control of the “bunce” that the FIA should never have relinquished so wholly. It was inevitable that it would end up being controlled by vultures and the present hiatus is just the excuse/reason that they need.
    I shall retain hope but not a lot of expectation.

  8. If Wikinaccurate is to be believed, The Great Race in Oz has had a title sponsor since its inception in 1960. I’m not convinced that “Bob Jane T-Marts” or “James Hardie” 1000 sounds much better than “Supercheap Autos”, but then I still refer to the music venue next to the Hammersmith Flyover as “the Hammy Odeon”, so what do I know?

    (Removes tongue from cheek)

  9. I’m afraid you’re on a losing wicket with this one Joe, thee and me really are dinosaurs these days, perhaps me more so. It can be a minefield though as Nigel Mansell found out when he left F1 for Carl Haas and CART. On winning his first race he jumps out of the car and proclaims what a great car the Dirt Devil team gave him. So far so good, but then he went off script to say “….and Dirt Devils are the best Hoovers there are.” You could hear the Dirt Devil folk groaning because in North America we call them vacuum cleaners, not Hoovers (like they do in the UK) and Hoover were Dirt Devil’s competition…….old Nige never made that mistake again!

  10. Didn’t Dr Beeching close Kim Kardashian East in the mid-60s?

    I totally agree about ridiculous sponsorship names. But is calling it the Grand Prix of Mexico City any more ridiculous than hosting the European Grand Prix in Baku, a city which is many things but is definitely not in Europe.

  11. In American series it has gotten so bad that the names tell you nothing. You need to look up what track or city the race is taking place in. It is the same problem with arena/stadium naming rights, every xx years they call the building something else.

  12. This really is a relevant post. No one was saying anything about these silly commercial names, to the point that I thought I was the only one feeling uneasy about “Made in Italy”.

  13. Joe, is the rule still on the books that one can only have one race in one country each season? I remember that was a stumbling block to be overcome with the institution of the second USGO years ago. Thanks.

  14. Wasn’t the Austrian GP sponsored by a company that didn’t exist? Other sports have been selling naming rights for ages, the Derby, Grand National and Premier Division come to mind. For the most part the commentators continue to use the ‘real’ names of the events.
    Did BAR ever run their cars with different paint jobs on either side? I’m sure many companies would find the money to sponsor a team for one or two races a year. Dare I say it, the Beardie Walt got Haas to race half a season with his pop logos on the cars.

  15. I am with Joe here. If you are running a World Championship, then it is only logical to have British, French, German, Italian GPs etc.

    We all appreciate that 2020/21 will be difficult years for income, so perhaps a little latitude could be allowed, but the Made in Italy GP is too far down the slippery slope.

    Incidentally, has the prize fund for 2020 been announced yet?

  16. There isn’t even a Kim Kardashian West after today. Which is funny because it reminded me of a parallel issue with race circuits in America. Laguna Seca became Mazda Raceway for many years, until Mazda went on gardening leave, to be followed by Weathertech Raceway. Up the road is the track formerly known as Sears Point, but I’ll be darned if I can remember what that is called, now.

  17. Thanks, Joe. Although I understand you, I’m at a point that, if there’s a company willing to pay to name a Grand Prix, let them have it.
    Any company willing to contribute to an event that burns fossil fuels these days should be praised. I bet that, one day when there’s no more Bathurst 1000, we will all want another go at the Supercheap Auto 1000!
    In the meantime, the dinosaur here will stick to his guns and cherish that V8 in the garage (before someone green and smart enough takes its licenses away).

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