Tag Archives: McLaren

Shuffling the pack – 28 Sept 2012

28 Sep

What a day.

After an absurdly protracted silly season, the F1 driver pack shuffling finally began today. In case you have been hiding in a cave all day, Lewis Hamilton is leaving McLaren who are replacing him with Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez, while Michael Schumacher who was ousted by H.A.M. appears to be seeking gainful employment elsewhere. The entire F1 twittersphere has been expressing its displeasure/outrage/bafflement/pleasure (delete as appropriate) since the early hours.

This was the news I was dreading, and now we are 12 hours in I’ve gathered my thoughts. I am pissed off. Not as pissed off as I may have been, as this news is definitely not the worst I have received this week by one heck of a long way. The only thing which is pissing me off is the now-serious risk that my beloved über-weltmeister Schumi may have to retire permanently from the sport. Beyond that I have mixed feelings. Here is my take on the key players:

Schumi
I don’t believe he wants to retire. If he did, he’d probably have said as much today through a joint statement with Mercedes. His manager Sabine Kehm has been quoted today saying that Michael wasn’t sure in the summer if he wanted to re-sign when offered a deal. Given the nightmarish first half of the season he had, this really doesn’t surprise me. Why would he want to keep driving in the team, or at all, given all those DNF’s which were beyond his control? Was he thinking of looking around elsewhere back then? We will probably never know.

I really, really want Schumi to keep racing, but only in a team where he has a good, reliable car. Sauber would be a great fit. I don’t believe he should, would or could go back to Ferrari.

Mercedes
The team do need to think of the future, and while I personally don’t get the hype around Hamilton, he is a big name. He also has an ego to match. The arrival of Lewis, Simon Fuller, Pussycat Nicole & guest rappers will probably be quite a culture shock for the team compared to the quieter team of Michael, his manager Sabine and occasionally his wife Corinna. I suspect it will take a while for the two parties to gel, particularly with Simon Fuller.

Lewis
Was it the challenge or the $$$? Who knows. More so than Mercedes, I think Lewis is also in for a culture shock. He is no longer the protegé, no longer in the environment he grew up in where he appears to have been treated with kid gloves. If he puts a toe out of line or gives it too much attitude, the Mercedes management will come down on him hard. Niki Lauda, Norbert Haug and Ross Brawn are all fierce when it comes to discipline. This could be exactly what Lewis needs, but it could easily turn in to a disaster zone.

McLaren
Did they drop the ball? Yes, maybe. But did Ron Dennis want to keep hold of it? With relations soured it is probably best for the team that they have a new start. Jenson is an excellent team player and will give them the continuity, while their new young rising star will be a breath of fresh air. If Checo keeps Jenson on his toes from the start and only grows stronger, how long will it be before they stop looking wistfully down the pitlane to Lewis’s garage?

Checo
Mexico’s rising star is undoubtedly the one with the most to gain here. After being held back by Ferrari, he now has a seat at a top team which will give him a shot at becoming another of F1’s youngest world champions. I can’t wait to see what he can deliver next year.

F1 Merchandising – Have The Teams Got It Right?

19 May

Like fans of any other sport, Formula 1 fans want to get their hands on official merchandising of the teams they support. Before the start of the season I decided to look at what teams released and when so that I could write about it here. I’ve never previously taken a look across all the teams in this way, and what I found surprised me to the extent that I questioned whether or not the teams in one of the most commercial sports in the world have got it right.

Timing of merchandise release

We’re now past race weekend 5 of 20 – a quarter of the way through the 2012 F1 season, and some teams have still not released their merchandising collections online through their websites. Those still in that category are Williams F1, Sahara Force India and HRT. The majority of teams had their merchandise available by the Malaysian race, although Mercedes (whom I was very impatiently waiting for) didn’t release theirs until mid-April.

With merchandising changing from one season to the next, the late timing of the releases does not represent good value for money for fans; F1 merchandising (like most sports) is not cheap. Why is it so late in some cases? It is hard to say for sure in each individual case, but waiting until sponsorship deals have been sealed can put production of the merchandising on hold. It is inevitable for the team that the income from the pending sponsor(s) will be worth more to the team than income from merchandising.

The contrast in timing of release of official F1 team ‘kit’ for supporters with football teams is striking. The 2011/12 football season is barely over, but the kit for 2012/13 season for many teams is either already available to buy or can at least be pre-ordered. Even those teams awaiting sponsorship deals to be agreed (or branding changes) are likely to release their kit in July, still ahead of the start of the season.

Price Comparison

The price of merchandising across F1 teams varies significantly. I took a look at the cost of a team replica ladies shirt for each team who has released merchandising to date. Replica kit is always more expensive than other ranges offered by teams so it should be noted that there are cheaper alternatives available. Here are the prices, in descending order:

Caterham £60

Mercedes £58.50

Lotus £53

Sauber (unisex) £52 (Conversion based on current £/€ exchange rate)

Red Bull £44.19 (Conversion based on current £/€ exchange rate)

Marussia £39.99

McLaren £39.95

Toro Rosso – no official shirt

Ferrari – not available online

This list shows a significant range in price across the teams. The McLaren shirt is a relative bargain(!) for one of the ‘big teams’ but is a t-shirt rather than a polo or shirt. By contrast the prices of the Mercedes and Caterham shirts are somewhat eyewatering.

Gender balance

Being a female F1 fan, I was particularly interested by the merchandising available to women. It was striking, and disappointing, that some teams only sell a fraction of items to women compared to the menswear range. If my twitter feed (@schuvettelainen) is anything to go by, the gender balance amongst F1 fans is pretty equal. Shots of the grandstands on race weekends also support this – there are always plenty of women at races.

Red Bull, Lotus, Marussia and McLaren all have full ranges for women, while Sauber’s official team line is unisex.  By comparison, Mercedes has 2 items (plus  a unisex jacket) for women compared to 11 for men.

Even more depressing is that some teams don’t even have menu filters for women on some parts of their website. The Ferrari store has a women’s section in their general range, but in the Scuderia section containing the F1 merchandise there are filters for men and kids, but not for women. It is possible to buy Ferrari women’s clothing in shops but it is really odd that it isn’t available online. (Interestingly in the Ferrari Scuderia section there is a filter for Fernando Alonso, but not for Felipe Massa – there is Felipe gear on there, but you have to trawl through everything to find it).

The Scuderia section of Ferrari’s online shop

Caterham have women’s team replica kit, but not a lifestyle range. I contacted their e-shop to ask why this was, and I was assured that the items are on their way (and that Caterham value their female fans as much as their male fans), but if they are able to produce men’s lifestyle products from the start, why not women’s?

The Caterham e-shop. See menu on left hand side.

With some teams having full lines for their female fans it seems that some recognise that women are massive F1 fans too, but others apparently haven’t got it right and have some way to go to catch up.

Accessories and other items

One thing all teams are good at is producing accessories and other assorted items. Here’s a selection of what is out there.

Red Bull have a massive range of items:

Seb Jigsaw (£10.41), Bandana (£9.61) and RB7 nosecone (£80,38) from the Red Bull Racing Shop

Mugs and USB sticks are a popular choice with teams. McLaren and Lotus have the nicest, although the Lotus USB is frankly extortionate.

Lotus USB stick (£40), Lotus mug (£14) and McLaren Tea-Lemetery Mug (£9.95)

Belts and notebooks are also popular choices. I like these ones from Caterham F1:

Caterham Belt (£24) and Leather Notebook (£18)

Have the teams got it right?

In some cases it seems the teams are spot on – a good choice for all, while others seem to have got it wrong (from a fan’s perspective) in terms of timing and/or gender inequality. I don’t know how teams plan their merchandising ranges, but they don’t seem to be drawing on consistent data. It will be interesting to see what the remaining teams offer when their collections are released.

Fan Focus – Team Sponsorship

12 Feb

One of the things that really interests me about F1 is the connection between teams and fans. Over the next few weeks I’ll be doing a series of ‘Fan Focus’ articles which will look at the different ways in which teams connect with or appeal to F1 fans.

This first article will look specifically at team sponsorship. After a winter break which has been dominated by talk of ‘pay drivers’ and the sponsors they bring to a team, I have been giving thought to what sponsorship means to us fans who are, theoretically, the end-targets of the high speed billboards that we love watching so much. But what does sponsorship really mean to fans these days? Is it always aimed at us, and do we even care who sponsors teams and drivers?

I recently ran a brief fan survey on twitter about sponsorship, the outcomes of which will be outlined here (many thanks to those who completed the survey for me).

Team and driver sponsorship

One of the questions I asked fans was whether they considered themselves a supporter of a team or a driver or both. Only 10% considered themselves a team supporter as opposed to a driver or a driver and team supporter. As drivers tend to move between teams several times during their career, our exposure to sponsors associated with our favourite drivers will inevitably change over time.

57% of those who responded didn’t feel that they were influenced by sponsorship of teams and drivers. This response felt about right to me, as many aren’t influenced by branding. Conversely though, the same proportion of people felt influenced by advertisements featuring an F1 driver. Seeing a particular product being advertised by a driver will get a better response than just a brand name on the side of a car. Mind you, given the quality of some adverts featuring F1 drivers recently (here’s looking at you Jenson Button) you have to wonder…

I also decided to ask fans whether sponsorship of teams (and their drivers) that they *didn’t* like had any negative effect on them. For every driver that we like, there’s usually at least one that we dislike equally strongly. I have to confess that I do get put off by sponsorship of a team I’m “less keen” on. Over a quarter of you agreed with me on that – glad I’m not alone!

Accessibility of sponsors

With some ‘pay drivers’ bringing big company sponsorship, or even national funding (Pastor Maldonado will you please stand up), I was starting to feel like some of the names appearing on the cars were completely unreachable to me. 37% of people who responded to the survey felt that companies sponsoring teams were irrelevant or unaffordable to them. Even in a time of economic difficulty that is quite a high number.

It was interesting to see some of the new brand names on the Lotus F1 team after they formed a partnership with mega-corporation Unilever. They have a huge number of household brand names which are accessible to fans, and have opted to put on two brands which relate to performance and endurance – Clear Anti-Dandruff shampoo and Rexona (the global name for Sure Deodorant). If Unilever are getting in on the act then others may possibly follow.

Team approaches to sponsorship

Different teams inevitably have different approaches to sponsorship. Those who are privately funded or who are at least very successful attract a lot of sponsors and can afford to create a branding ethos or philosophy with their “partners”. If you haven’t read it before, Red Bull’s page about their partners shows how a big, financially strong team can approach its sponsorship: http://www.redbullracing.com/cs/Satellite/en_INT/Red-Bull-Racing-Partners/001242811070589 Most of Red Bull’s sponsors are “reachable” to fans in one country or another (inevitably not everything is available everywhere e.g. it is very hard to get Rauch Juices in the UK).

Other financially strong teams like McLaren, Mercedes GP and Caterham F1 also have pages outlining their partners and describe how they work together.

By contrast, a team like Williams F1 who are clearly a little strapped for cash (two heavily sponsored drivers) have a page aimed at their investors (including a share price) and just a flicking ticker of sponsors across the bottom of the page. The brands associated with them are more about what the drivers can bring rather than creating an ethos or a philosophy. If they’re lucky it’ll be a brand name which connects with fans, but teams who need money will take cash from whoever is prepared to stump up the cash that they need. Keeping your place on the grid has to be a priority before developing an ethos to appeal to fans.

Other thoughts

The nature of F1 sponsorship was changed radically by the tobacco advertising ban. Before that, F1 sponsorship was heavily dominated by tobacco companies. Almost every team had a major tobacco sponsor. Tobacco advertising, whatever your views on smoking, was aimed at individual fans and since the ban was brought in teams have had to seek out sponsors in different industries. Some have had to ‘go big’ and look for larger companies e.g. telecoms to support them, while others can support themselves and aim for brands which are more in touch with fans. Only 17% responded that they felt sponsorship was less targeted at fans since the tobacco ban was brought in, so teams have managed to stay in touch with fans fairly successfully.

One off-putting thing for me as a fan is too much sponsorship from one brand. The worst offender right now is probably Santander. They sponsor two of the top four teams (McLaren and Ferrari), as well as a significant proportion of the races. I really dislike that so many trophies are now in the shape of their logo. I wouldn’t bank with them anyway because of the financial issues they’ve had recently, but I’d certainly be otherwise put off by seeing their logo everywhere at races. Everyone is different though, and it clearly wins them customers otherwise they wouldn’t sponsor races.

Whatever your view on sponsorship in F1, whether you resent it or feel inspired by it, it is an integral part of the sport we love. Global sports are nothing without their fans though, and there’s a risk that teams will lose sight of that when it comes to their finances. Having said that, what interests us die-hard fans most is the racing; I’m not sure we really care what logos happen to appear on the cars as long as they are there on the track.

Do let me know your thoughts using the comments feature below.

Who Nose – Part 2

6 Feb

Within just over 24 hours we’ve seen a further four Formula 1 teams launch their 2012 cars – Lotus, Sauber, Red Bull and Toro Rosso.

The nose debate rages on

It was inevitable that the main focus for these launches would be the style of nose chosen by each team, particularly for the hotly anticipated RB8. All four teams launching yesterday and today have a stepped nose of one form or another, bringing the step v slope score to 7-1.

The RB8 shows the most innovative design, with a duct set in to the step. It is not clear where the air from this duct will travel to within the car, but it goes without saying it is for something more important than keeping the drivers’ toes cool while out on the track. There is also a ‘fin’ on the top of the step which will help direct air flow. Interestingly the Toro Rosso also has this feature (albeit on a smaller scale). The F1 press following the launch have been frustrated by the lack of close up images of the RB8, but the start of testing tomorrow in Jerez will give everyone a closer look.

The Toro Rosso STR7 and the Lotus E20 both feature concave steps in their noses, and this style is certainly emerging as the more elegant approach for stepped noses. The Sauber C31 features the same ‘blockier’ step as the Ferrari. A relatively plain livery for the Sauber hasn’t help to ease the ‘ugliness’ of the C31, which sadly for them was one of the main talking points about their car today. Now that more cars have been unveiled it is clear that a stylish livery on the car is a great way to ease the visual impact of the step, but as I said last time, speed is far more important than style.

So what else have we learnt in the last couple of days?

Firstly, we’ve learnt that online launches don’t always go to plan. The Lotus F1 website did not cope well yesterday with the volume of traffic hitting the site to see their pre-recorded video. We’ve also learned about  a couple of new sponsors for Lotus. However they fare on the track, we can now rest assured that neither Kimi or Romain will suffer from B.O. or dandruff.

Sauber were on the defensive, not only about their basic livery, but also about the departure of technical director James Key. The relationship ‘wasn’t working’, and the team have confirmed that he won’t be replaced.

Red Bull’s website fared much better with the volume of traffic, and their launch video for the car was cleverly designed to show off the lines of the car and the logos of their sponsors. Whoever created the video for them deserves some kudos. Interviews with key personnel including the drivers and Adrian Newey followed. All were predictably cautious about how the RB8 will fare against its competitors.

Toro Rosso, like Sauber, went for a traditional unveiling at the Jerez track, and it was clear to see the enthusiasm of their two new drivers. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne had mega-watt smiles as their new car was unveiled.

Looking ahead

We’re now left to wait to see the Williams, HRT, Marussia and Mercedes cars over the coming days and weeks. The Mercedes will be the most interesting of these and sadly we have to wait until 21 February for their car launch. The Marussia is the only remaining car currently tipped to have a sloped nose like the McLaren.

Many are also now wondering whether McLaren are on to a winner with their sloped nose, or have missed a trick (or worse, are on the back foot). Time will tell on this one. Interestingly, McLaren have also confirmed that they had plastic covers over their exhausts during the launch of the MP4-27 last week in order to conceal the design underneath. McLaren are playing an interesting game, but whether it is a game of catch-up or a game of risk we don’t yet know. Will they win or lose?

Who Nose?

4 Feb

It has been a long old winter break for us F1 fans, and although there’s snow falling outside for many of us today, it feels like the F1 Spring has finally sprung. Car launch season is here! So far we’ve seen 4 of the 12 cars for the coming season, with unveilings from Caterham F1, McLaren Mercedes, Ferrari and Sahara Force India. In this post I’m going to be looking at some of what we’ve learned so far.

The Noses

The main talking point for everyone has been the nose of the 2012 car. The stepped ‘platypus’ nose which we’ve seen on the Caterham, Force India and Ferrari isn’t exactly stunning to look at, but if it is good from an aerodynamics perspective then that is all that counts.

The three

When asked about the appearance of the Caterham CT01, Tony Fernandes said “Personally I love this car, and it’s very flattering that people want to talk about our car and our team, but the main consideration is that it is quick. As long as it is quicker than last year’s car I don’t think the looks matter, and I am sure that when all the other cars are unveiled we will see a pretty common thread running through all of them. I actually think it’s beautiful. It’s different, and different does not equal ugly – in fact I think its difference is what makes it beautiful, but then I am probably a bit biased.” (Caterham F1 Website).

McLaren have opted for a ‘traditional’ nose which is sweeps down gradually. Their nose has inevitably gone down better with the team’s fans, who have been quick to gloat about how ‘nice’ it is in comparison to the other teams. We shall have to see who in fact, has the last laugh when it comes to noses. It will be interesting to see which route the other teams have opted for as the other cars are unveiled, and whether teams will opt for some “in-season rhinoplasty” if they feel the other style is more effective. Which is the most effective? Who nose?

With two different styles out there, attention is inevitably turning to the Red Bull Racing RB8 launch on Monday. Which style will the master of aerodynamics have chosen? The picture that Red Bull have posted on their website to promote the launch shows a style of nose that is almost a hybrid of the two – a gentle lip at the top which then appears to curve down slightly. This may, of course, not be the actual nose, but if it is then Adrian Newey appears to have opted to go for the best of both worlds.

The RB8 promotional image

The Teams and Drivers

Car launches also give us the opportunity to see the new team congregated together, (race) suited and booted….well, most of them do.

Caterham F1 opted to just release images of the car in the F1 Racing magazine and on their website, and have so far only released interviews with Tony Fernandes and Mike Gascoyne. This is undoubtedly down to ongoing uncertainty about whether Vitaly Petrov will secure the second race seat alongside Heikki Kovalainen.

After last year’s drama, all eyes were on Lewis Hamilton at the McLaren launch. Hamilton didn’t appear as relaxed as his team-mate, but then he has more to prove. The McLaren launch was definitely the glitziest, but it struck me as being a tad too glitzy in order to compensate for a current lack of certainty. They have a major upgrade coming for the third pre-season test, and a cunningly disguised exhaust. Some are readying to question the legality of that exhaust after some leaked comments from a McLaren staff member.

Sadly Ferrari’s first run of the F2012 was disrupted by an exceptional amount of snow in Maranello, which resulted in an online launch. Despite the disruption of the weather, the message coming out of Maranello was loud and clear with regards to Felipe Massa – “buck up or you’re out”.

The Force India unveiling was quite traditional, and it was good to see all three drivers smiling and ready to go. Force India have a great driver line up and the battle between Paul and Nico will be great to watch this season.

Looking forward to the next few launches in the coming days, as well as the start of testing on Tuesday.