EXCLUSIVE: McLaren’s new title sponsor revealed

As we all know, McLaren and Vodafone announced that their six-year title sponsorship agreement would not be renewed at the end of the season.  McLaren have already revealed that a new title sponsor has been signed up, but they have not revealed who that sponsor will be.  They have set 2 December 2013 as the date that all will be revealed.  Now, nearly nine months is an awfully long time to wait, especially in the fast paced world of Formula 1, but fortunately we don’t have to wait until December for the answer.  In a first for my blog, I’m able to reveal, as a WORLD EXCLUSIVE, the identity of McLaren’s new title sponsor from 2014 onwards.

Sergio Perez has been sponsored by Telmex throughout his career

Sergio Perez has been sponsored by
Telmex throughout his career

With the arrival of Sergio Perez at McLaren this season, many had speculated, even before the announcement of the end of Vodafone’s title sponsorship agreement with the team, that Vodafone and McLaren would part ways.  This is because of the Mexican’s long running sponsorship agreement with Carlos Slim’s telecommunications giant Telmex, a Vodafone competitor.  Telmex, of course, are already in Formula 1 as sponsors of the Sauber team, Perez’s former employer for whom Esteban Gutierrez, his compatriot, now drives.  So, does a move to McLaren beckon for Telmex?  I can reveal that the answer to that question is no.  Telmex will not be McLaren’s new title sponsor.

So, if not Telmex, then who?  Well, I’ve managed to tease you for a couple of paragraphs, but I’m going to answer that question right now – eight months and a day before McLaren’s official announcement.  I’m able to exclusively reveal this news now because of contacts at the company involved, rather than at McLaren, which explains why I’ve been able to get the scoop on more established Formula 1 journalists.  McLaren’s new title sponsor from 2014 will be…McDonald’s.

Jamie McMurray driving his McDonald's liveriedChevrolet at Pheonix last month

Jamie McMurray driving his McDonald’s liveried
Chevrolet at Pheonix last month

The American fast food giant serves around 68 million customers daily in 119 countries and certainly has the financial muscle to be able to enter into a long-term sponsorship agreement with a Formula 1 team, despite the global economic downturn.  They also have a history of motorsport sponsorship.  They have been involved in NASCAR for quite a number of years and as recently as late last year they announced that they would be increasing their sponsorship of Jamie McMurray’s Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, after the departure of previous primary sponsor Bass Pro Shops.

The exact value of the McLaren McDonald’s deal has not been revealed to me, but I am able to say that the figures involved are significant.  The value of the deal is in excess of McLaren’s previous $75m per year deal with Vodafone and will certainly be enough to give the team a significant financial boost at a time when a number of Formula 1 teams are struggling financially, as evidenced by the recent demise of the HRT team, and the dramatic increase in the number of pay drivers in the sport, particularly among the smaller teams.

Expect to see McDonald's fleet of McLaren P1s on the roads from 2014

Expect to see McDonald’s fleet of
McLaren P1s on the roads from 2014

McDonald’s and McLaren had been in negotiations for quite some time.  Discussions started well before Vodafone had decided to withdraw from Formula 1.  McDonald’s have spotted an opportunity to steal a march on competitors like Burger King and will shortly be announcing a move into the home delivery market, having identified an increasing trend towards families economising by staying in, rather than going out.  This has led to a noticeable reduction in footfall for McDonald’s which they’re determined to address.  It is this home delivery service  – Speed Assured Delivery – that the McLaren sponsorship deal will serve to promote.  The SAD service will utilise Formula 1 technology, developed in partnership with McLaren, to ensure that food is delivered to the customer’s door no more than 20 minutes after an order is placed.  McDonald’s will be able to guarantee this thanks to the acquisition of a fleet of McLaren’s new P1 sports cars.  Unfortunately, my sources tell me that McDonald’s will not be able to offer Happy Meals with the SAD service.

Alongside the headline sponsorship figure, the deal with McDonald’s will also see the McLaren’s trackside catering operation being run by the US firm, who will also be launching a range of new products to their menu as part of the sponsorship tie up.  As I mentioned, McLaren’s negotiations with McDonald’s have been going on for quite some time, pre-dating Lewis Hamilton’s departure from the Woking-based team.  Indeed, the Englishman’s departure almost scuppered the deal completely as one of the big new promotional tie ups was set to be a brand new McHAMburger, which was to be promoted by the 2008 world drivers’ champion.

Some of the existing McDonald's menu

Some of the existing McDonald’s menu

The loss of Hamilton did not prove to be fatal for the deal, though.  This is mainly due to the strength of the other menu based promotional concepts that the companies have managed to develop.  Chief among these is the new ‘double Mac’, a double size Big Mac which celebrates the partnership between the two ‘Mc’ companies.  It’s also rumoured that a new spicy hotdog item will be part of the promotional menu, to be fronted by Sergio Perez; the Devilled Roasted Sausage (DRS) McHotdog.  Jenson Button is expected to promote a new Jelly Bean (JB) McFlurry.  All of these new menu items will, of course, be available with the SAD service.

With the arrival of McDonald’s we will have to bid farewell to the iconic McLaren chrome and red livery from 2014.  As you might have guessed, McLaren will be painted in the McDonalds red with the ‘golden arches’ yellow accent.  This may well upset Ferrari, and there is already some talk that the Italian team will retaliate by launching their own restaurant chain.  The menu is already under development with the ‘Prancing Horse Burger’ set to be the chain’s signature dish.  Given the recent Europe-wide horse-meat scandal, some rethinking may be required, though.

I have asked McLaren to comment on this article, but as expected they’re unwilling to confirm or deny anything ahead of their official announcement on 2 December.  Their media relations officer, Jo King would only say “We don’t comment on speculation. Our new title sponsor will be announced on 2 December”.  I was also unable to get any official comment from McDonald’s sponsorship co-ordinator Stu Pidd.

* Did you notice today’s date?  If you’re reading this after the publication date, you might want to pay some special attention to that before taking this article too seriously.  Happy April Fools day!

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The Lotus name game

We live in a brand conscious age, where clever marketing drives consumer attitudes and spending patterns.  Formula 1 is no stranger to the use of advertising and marketing, with all teams selling advertising space on their cars.  Indeed, Bernie Ecclestone’s marketing machine has made him a billionaire while he massively increasing global interest in Formula 1  since the 1970s, when he took control of the commercial rights to the sport.  Are there, or should there be, some restrictions to what Formula 1 teams can do in terms of advertising?

The answer to this question is clearly yes, as we saw with the end of tobacco advertising on cars early in the new millennium, but what about team names?  Personally, if I see a Ferrari on an F1 track I like knowing that, if I had the money, I could go out and buy a Ferrari road car that bore some relationship to the F1 car I watched on TV.  It’s not just Ferrari, the same point could be made using McLaren or Mercedes and, to a lesser extent, Renault (given their involvement solely as an engine manufacturer).  Of course, there’s Lotus, too…or is there?

At the start of the 2010 season, after a gap of 15 years, the Lotus name made a welcome return to Formula 1 with Tony Fernandes’s Lotus Racing, one of three new teams to be granted a place on the grid at the start of that season.  Fernandes had agreed with Proton, who own Group Lotus, to use the Lotus name under license in F1.  Despite the use of the Lotus name, the 2010 F1 Lotus – the T127 – wasn’t really a Lotus, was it?  The car we watched racing around Formula 1 tracks bore no relationship to Lotus road cars whatsoever.

Things got messier in the 2011 season, with the breakdown of the relationship between Fernandes and Group Lotus.  The latter decided to terminate the licensing agreement with 1Malaysia Racing Team (Fernandes’s Team), and instead sponsor the Renault Team, which became Lotus-Renault.  This deal included an option for Group Lotus to acquire a stake in the Lotus-Renault Team.  Not to be outdone, Fernandes bought the historic and evocative Team Lotus name from the Hunt family and the 1Malaysia Racing Team raced under this banner in 2011.  We now had two Lotus teams on the grid, neither of which had a particularly close link to the Lotus road cars, although the possibility of such a relationship developing clearly existed with the potential part acquisition by Group Lotus of a 50% stake in Lotus-Renault.

Two Lotus teams in F1 could never last for very long, though, and, following a legal dispute, Fernandes eventually sold the Team Lotus name to Genii Capital, the owners of Lotus-Renault, and bought the sportscar manufacturer Caterham.  So in 2012, 1Malaysia Racing Team became the Caterham F1 Team and Lotus-Renault became simply Lotus.  That cleared everything up, right?  We had a Caterham F1 Team that was under the same ownership as its road car namesake and, even though Group Lotus were basically acting as a title sponsor for what was the Renault team (which continues to use Renault engines), a Lotus F1 Team with the potential for a similar relationship to develop in the future.

This situation was not to last long either, though.  Autosport reported on 6 April that the Lotus F1 team had “terminated its title sponsorship deal with sportscar manufacturer Group Lotus”, but that they would continue to use the Lotus name in Formula 1.  Autosport also reported that the option for Group Lotus to buy a 50% stake in the team had been annulled, removing the possibility that the Lotus road car would bear any sort of relationship to the Lotus F1 car.  So, the team will change its name again, right?  Wrong.  Autosport quoted Genii Capital owner Gerard Lopez as saying “We are happy to carry the Lotus name as we believe it is a good name for F1”.  Well, yes, he’s right there it is a good name for F1, but in my view Lotus is more than just a name – it brings with it a rich motorsport heritage and history, one that the current Lotus F1 Team does not share.  To my mind this is a type of false advertising.

You could draw a parallel here with the Infiniti sponsorship of the Red Bull team.  When this was originally announced, there was some speculation that this would lead to the Renault engines that power the Red Bull cars being branded Infiniti.  This didn’t happen, though, with Autosport quoting Infiniti’s senior vice president Andy Palmer as saying, in response to being asked whether Red Bull’s Renault engines would be rebadged “No. Infiniti is all about being genuine – so rebranding an engine would not have been genuine”.  So, there you have it, a huge difference in approach between this and the Lotus situation.

One can only assume that the Lotus F1 Team’s continued use of the Lotus name is under some sort of licensing agreement, similar to the one that 1Malaysia Racing had when it entered the sport in 2010.  Is this right, and should it be allowed?  In my view, it shouldn’t.  The uninformed man in the street would expect the Lotus on the F1 grid to be owned by the same Lotus company that he could buy a road car from; an F1 team shouldn’t be allowed to use a name just because it’s “a good name for F1”.

I’m off out to buy some prancing horse badges to stick on my Ford.  From now on I’ll be telling everyone I drive a Ferrari.  Who could disagree?  It’ll have the right badges…