The biggest teams in the sport are the ones with the biggest sponsors.
The switch happened sometime in the 1960s. Till then, race car drivers had national colours painted on their steeds. It was patriotic and the fans loved it, but this wasn’t enough to sustain a competitive career in motor sport. That’s when these were replaced for good by sponsorship liveries, that continue to adorn Formula 1 cars up to this date.
Cigarette companies were the most popular. Gold Leaf and John Player backed multiple championship-winning Lotus in the late 1960s and 1970s. Marlboro’s red and white liveried McLaren helped Ayrton Senna to his first drivers’ title. And, who can forget the company’s scarlet missile that powered five of Michael Schumacher’s seven F1 wins? There were more controversial sponsorship brands than tobacco companies, of course. The F1 paddock was positively shocked when the 1976 Surtees F1 car, piloted by Alan Jones and Brett Lunger, carried Durex sponsorship livery!
Every square inch of an F1 car or, for that matter, a driver's racing overalls, are as good as a billboard and companies pay huge sums to ensure they get prime advertising space on it. So, who are the biggest brands behind the big racing teams today? Let’s take a look.
RED BULL RACING
Sponsored by: Red Bull GmbH
The Austrian energy drinks company seems to have infiltrated most forms of motor sport, from the world rally championship to MotoGP. Stil, it’s the company’s Formula 1 team that’s been the most successful. Red Bull GmbH owns Red Bull Racing, the team that won both drivers’ and constructors’ titles in 2010 and 2011. They also own Scuderia Toro Rosso, the F1 team that has prepared drivers for race seats with the premier Red Bull Racing team. They have probably the biggest budget in Formula 1 and have made good use of their money.
Sponsored by: The Santander Group
After complaints from sponsorship regulators and fans alike, the ‘Marlboro’ name was dropped from Scuderia Ferrari. So, the biggest sponsor the team has at the moment (it came with their Spanish driver, Fernando Alonso) is Santander. The company reportedly pumps close to $57 million a year to ensure the scarlet scorchers are sorted money-wise. The team is also backed by Shell, Magneti Marelli, Bosch, SKF and several other companies.
VODAFONE MCLAREN MERCEDES
Sponsored by: Vodafone
Simply called Team McLaren Mercedes until 2007, Vodafone came in with big money that earned them a role as title sponsor at the Woking-based squad. This was after Vodafone parted ways with Ferrari, whom they had earlier sponsored in F1. Given that the sponsorship deal with Ferrari was reported to be $23 mn a year, title sponsorship for McLaren could be more than twice that. The contract is set to last another six years at least. Other sponsors include Hugo Boss, Diageo, Mobil 1 and Kenwood.
MERCEDES GP PETRONAS
Sponsored by: Petronas
The title-winning Brawn GP team was bought by Mercedes for the 2010 season. It was a bit of a shock to team boss Ross Brawn that the £80 mn deal he’d signed with German multinational company Henkel went bust. However, once the team was officially renamed Mercedes GP, roping in Petronas (which once sponsored Sauber in F1) wasn’t too hard. The Malaysian petroleum company reportedly pays the team €30 mn per year. MIGfx and investment group Aabar also sponsor the team.
AT&T WILLIAMS F1
Sponsored by: AT&T
From a championship winning squad to a midfield runner, the transition hasn’t been easy for the last of F1’s privateers. What they could do with more of is money. Currently, with telecom giant AT&T as title sponsor, the team is raking in some money, but probably not enough for the sort of development needed to keep them in contention for race wins. Randstad, the McGregor Fashion Group and Oris Swiss Watches are also sponsors. Some money from Venezuela, too, thanks to driver Pastor Maldonado, courtesy energy company PDVSA and Venezuela Tourism.
SAHARA FORCE INDIA
Sponsored by: Sahara and the UB Group
Sure, we’ve all seen the Kingfisher and Whyte & Mackay logos on the sides of the tricolour Force India F1 cars. Yet, they're no longer the most important. As of earlier this month, Force India has been bought out by the Sahara India Pariwar, for $100 mn. This means Sahara now owns 42.5 per cent of the team, with Vijay Mallya retaining the same amount and the Michael Mol family owning 15 per cent stake in the team.
That’s a lot of money for a midfield team, hoping to soon translate the greenbacks into points and podiums.