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McLaren’s sponsorship deal with Coca-Cola – an opportunity for Williams, or an opportunity missed?

October 18, 2018

McLaren Renault have signed a sponsorship deal with Coca-Cola to have the drinks giant’s logo displayed on their car for the remainder of the 2018 Formula 1 season, (notably including this weekend’s US Grand Prix and Circuit of the Americas in Austin Texas) with the option to extend if it’s in the interests of both parties.

This is the second time the Coca-Cola company has dipped their toe in the Formula 1 market after their sub-brand energy drink Burn sponsored the ‘Lotus’ team (they’ll always get inverted commas from me – the REAL Team Lotus folded in 1994!) in 2013 and 2014.

Despite this connection, this will be the first time the American corporation’s logo will have appeared on an F1 car.

What occurred to me when I saw the announcement was with the Williams Martini Racing Formula 1 Team becoming just the Williams Racing Team in 2019 when Martini’s title sponsorship ends at the end of this season, could there have been an opportunity for Williams to get in there before McLaren and negotiate a title sponsorship deal with an obviously open to a tie-up in Formula 1 Coca-Cola before the McLaren mob got to them?

Williams and McLaren have a similar pedigree, and while current standing might slightly favour the Woking outfit, there’s not a great deal in it.

Most probably, Zak Brown, American CEO of McLaren, used his considerable experience, knowledge and connections of, and within the US market (he’s founder and CEO of JMI: The world’s biggest and most successful motorsports marketing agency in the world) to leverage the much sought after deal with Coca-Cola.

That being the case, there’s little Williams could have done to have engineered themselves the deal that Brown secured for McLaren.

However, it could be a sign that the noise that the US-centric Liberty is generating for Formula 1 in America is beginning to pay dividends, and that Mclaren’s deal with Coca Cola will be the first in a succession of American consumer brands that fancy a piece of the truly global (and that includes the US!) Formula 1.

America is the richest democracy in the world, with some of the world’s biggest corporations, so by the law of averages you’d expect them to be a bigger player in F1.

Imagine an Apple-Mercedes, or a Force Microsoft. What about an Amazon backed Ferrari? Or Chevrolet supplying constructors with engines like they do in IndyCar?

These could all be a possibility in a brave new world of Formula 1 in which America plays a more pivotal role, encouraged by a greater sense of US ownership within the sport.

And if Liberty can convince CEOs across the US that a forward thinking, technologically innovating and yet socially and environmentally aware sport like F1 perfectly aligns with the values of their brand then there’s no reason why these deals can’t become a reality.

So might Williams be about to follow McLaren’s lead and leap into bed with some American Globo-megacorp?

Well, Williams are on the lookout for a title sponsor, and the funding that it could bring. They have pedigree and potential. And, despite their poor showing of late, they, like McLaren, are still a key player in the sport.

Not in Williams’ favour in convincing an US corporation that they’re the perfect suitor would be their proud ‘Britishness’. Americans, and American corporations traditionally gravitate towards home-grown success stories.

McLaren appear to have leveraged Zak Brown in their deal and Williams don’t have an equivalent, which could make them a more difficult sell to the US market.

And then there’s Haas. If I were a US company wanting to sponsor an F1 team, why wouldn’t I approach the de-facto US works team?

That they haven’t sealed a deal with an Oracle or an eBay, or even a McDonalds or a Pepsi suggests that there aren’t many of them knocking on the door just yet.

There’s also the trend of dwindling big-name sponsorship in Formula 1 in recent years. Whether as a result of the way F1 was managed in the Bernie era, whether it was because of the ‘show’ and people’s perception of the sport, or whether it’s down to cost and ROI (or lack of it) it’s something that Liberty must be desperate to reverse.

And it would seem that their way of doing this is to make F1 more appealing to CEOs and CMOs across the pond.

This being the case, if I were Claire Williams right now, I’d either be scrabbling around for a young American Grand Prix driver I could get in as test driver (that isn’t Santino Ferrucci!), or I’d be down Jarrow town hall sifting through births, marriages and deaths to see if I could dig up some American ancestry to sweeten any deal that might be in the offing from Silicon Valley.


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