For the past six seasons, the Vodafone name and logo have appeared on the side of McLaren’s Formula One cars and in the team’s name – Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. But from the end of 2013, that will no longer be the case; Vodafone is pulling the plug on its Formula One sponsorship.
The move comes as part of Vodafone’s plan to “transform its local and global sponsorship strategy”. In short, Vodafone has enjoyed a successful partnership with McLaren, but now it is time to move on. This was confirmed by a statement from Vodafone Group Chief Commercial Officer Morten Lundal:
“We have been very happy with our engagement with McLaren. Our relationship has been a key ingredient in bringing the Vodafone brand to where it is today. However, our brand is evolving, and we’ve concluded we will have less of a need for this kind of exposure in future. We now look forward to further success and brand engagement with McLaren in 2013.”
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said, “We’re immensely proud that, having been set a number of ambitious challenges by Vodafone back in 2007, together we’ve met or exceeded each and every one… Our focus is on continuing to drive results for all our partners throughout the 2013 season and we look forward to making a major title partnership announcement towards the end of the year.”
Significantly for McLaren, it also comes shortly after the signing of Mexican driver Sergio Perez, who has been supported through his career by billionaire Carlos Slim’s Mexican telecommunications company, Telmex. Perez’s former team, Sauber, continues to display Telmex sponsorship on their 2013 car, and Sauber has a Mexican driver in the form of Esteban Gutierrez for this season. But McLaren, as a higher profile and more competitive team, would provide better return on investment for Telmex, making a switch all the more possible.
McLaren seem to be in the middle of re-aligning their commercial and sporting partnerships. The exit of Vodafone is now confirmed, but what is not yet firmly established is the possibility of a change of engine supplier from Mercedes to Honda. Rumours have surfaced recently that Honda is considering a return to Formula One with the new turbo engine formula that comes into effect in 2014.
While McLaren and Mercedes have enjoyed an extremely successful partnership over the last two decades, Mercedes are now focusing on their own works team, and McLaren will not want to be second on their engine supplier’s priority list. If Honda does make a return to F1, McLaren could easily secure their full commitment. For Formula One fans, the return of the McLaren-Honda combination would be significant and quite emotional – all three of Ayrton Senna’s World Championships came in McLaren cars powered by Honda engines.
For the moment, however, McLaren have a much more immediate priority – the 2013 Formula One season. The first practice session for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix is now a matter of hours away. McLaren will want to start the season with a strong result on Sunday to get their championship campaign underway. It’s been five years since McLaren last won a World Championship, and the team will be anxious not to let it slip away again this season. For Vodafone, as this is their final year of involvement in F1, success for McLaren in 2013 would be the perfect result on which to bow out of the sport.
Rumours are circulating of a possible change of engines for McLaren in 2014, when Formula 1 will move from the current 2.4 litre V8s to 1.6 litre V6 turbos.
It was reported some time ago that Honda might be considering a return to Formula 1 as an engine supplier, and that McLaren were potential customers. The team denied the rumour.
More recently, a switch to PURE engines has been suggested in the media. Again, McLaren have moved to deny the rumour, and the team has stated that it is happy with Mercedes-Benz and intends to continue the current partnership. There would be good reason to do so, given the success of the McLaren-Mercedes pairing over the last two decades.
However, there has been no indication of the length of the contract with Mercedes-Benz, which suggests that change may be possible. Mercedes has its own works team and will want the new Mercedes engine to work well with the Mercedes car. It therefore makes sense for McLaren to find an engine partner who would be more likely to design the engine to suit the McLaren car.
At this point, this is all speculation, but until McLaren makes some sort of definite announcement, the rumours are likely to continue.