Saturday, February 20, 2010

Will Lotus F1 team get more sponsors?

12 February 2010

ONE of the most valuable advertising space in Formula One racing is the side of the racing car that carries a sponsor’s name.

The visibility is there no matter how fast the speed machine roars away from the grid and it guarantees the presence of millions of eyeballs globally having a good sight of the brand.

Sports sponsorship is big business and it is one of the best ways to build a brand. In F1, the stakes are high and so is the exposure.

Petronas is the title sponsor for the Mercedes Grand Prix Petronas team for the coming season.

Petronas has been in the F1 business for a long time and opted for Mercedes over Lotus F1 Racing for several reasons.

For one, Mercedes (known as Brawn GP in the previous season) is the reigning constructors’ champion and has seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher to drive its machine for the new season. This means Schumacher will be “wheeling” in the competition this year.

It is in an enviable position to be in when the season begins on March 12 in Bahrain.

Today, at about midnight, racing enthusiasts will see the return of the yellow and green Lotus machine – brought to life again by 1Malaysia Racing Team – which will compete with Mercedes GP Petronas and 11 other teams. Pictures of the car, which was officially unveiled in London before it enters the third official test session in Jerez Circuit in Spain next week, are available online.

It’s as sleek as any other F1 machines but surprisingly, the car still looks bare of sponsors.

With Petronas out, 1Malaysia Racing Team (1MRT) is left with only the sponsorship of an international oil company and some Asian companies. There are some sponsors and Bridgestone is a sponsor that is listed on its website.

Being without a major sponsor means the onus is on the owners to fork out the money in this “big bucks” business.

The biggest cost item is engine development and while Lotus F1 team principal Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes did not want to reveal how much needed, RM300mil was a figure bandied around earlier.

Lotus F1 has no intention to miss a beat as it wants to be in all the 13 races and of course, podium wins and constructor’s points will help offset some transportation costs.

For now, the stickers of Tune Group appear on the sides of the car and one wonders if the company is the title sponsor. Fernandes has declined comment on this.

Tune Group is Fernandes and his partner Datuk Kamarudin Meranun’s vehicle, which in turn controls Tune Talk, Tune Money, Tune Hotels. It also has a stake in AirAsia.

Naza Group is a shareholder of the 1Malaysia Racing Team, and so is Proton, which owns the Lotus group and Lotus brand.

From branding perspective, Tune Group is less known globally, compared with names like AirAsia or even Tony Fernandes himself. Unfortunately, AirAsia is locked in an agreement with Williams for the whole of this season.

“No doubt the AirAsia and Tony Fernandes names are well known but it is about positioning the Tune Group and this is a great avenue to do it,” said a source.

The reality is that it is a challenge to get sponsors when you are new in the game but if Lotus F1 can prove itself in the first few races then it has better chances of attracting more sponsorships.

The past 100 days has been trying times for Fernandes and the team but will there be surprises?

Will this Malaysian dream become a truly Asian dream with Asian sponsors backing the Lotus F1 team?

Let’s wait for the race to begin.

By B.K.Sidhu

The Star

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