New setback for McLaren as Vodafone elects not to renew title deal
The McLaren Formula One team has confirmed that Vodafone, its title partner since 2007, will not renew its deal with the team beyond the end of the 2013 season.
The news came as McLaren prepares for the start of the new world championship in Australia this weekend and follows months of speculation which suggested Vodafone would withdraw from Formula One or downgrade its sponsorship of the team.
It is the latest setback for McLaren, which in recent months has lost its star driver and technical director.
Vodafone is one of Formula One's biggest sponsors, reputedly spending around US$75 million per year to help McLaren remain one of the best-funded teams in the sport.
The mobile telecommunications giant was previously a sponsor of Ferrari before switching to the British team. An initial four-year agreement with McLaren, signed in December 2005 for 2007 onwards, was extended by three years in October 2010, a renewal which saw Vodafone become 'total communications partner' of the team.
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Confirming the end of the deal on Thursday, 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.
"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."
Vodafone chief commercial officer Morten Lundal added: "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."
In Thursday's statement, McLaren said it would announce its new title sponsor on 2nd December, although it is believed there is no deal currently in place. Mexican telco Telmex, however, has been widely suggested as a possible replacement for Vodafone, given its longstanding backing of new McLaren driver Sergio Perez.
While not entirely unexpected, Vodafone’s decision not to extend its deal is a blow for a McLaren team which, despite winning at least one race in every season since 1997, has not won the drivers’ world championship since 2008 and a constructors’ title since 1998.
Perez replaces Lewis Hamilton as Jenson Button's teammate this season, following the 2008 world champion's switch to the Mercedes team. In February, meanwhile, McLaren confirmed the departure of technical director Paddy Lowe, who is currently on gardening leave and tipped to also ultimately join Mercedes.
While Lowe has been replaced by Tim Goss, another McLaren stalwart, the move was seen as a major technical setback on the eve of a 2013 season in which the team will, for the first time, have to pay for its supply of Mercedes engines. McLaren has reverted to being a customer of the German manufacturer, which has supplied the team's engines since 1995, following a buy-back of Mercedes' 40 per cent stake in McLaren, which itself followed Mercedes' decision to form its own team in 2010. The team has failed to quell speculation that it is negotiating a deal with Honda for a supply of engines from 2015.
Vodafone's spell as title sponsor of McLaren followed the team's title deals with tobacco firms West, between 1997 and 2006, and Marlboro, between 1974 and 1996.