Just hours before Sebastian Vettel was crowned world champion for a third time in November his Red Bull Racing team announced car manufacturer Infiniti – Nissan’s luxury challenger brand - as its first title sponsor. The agreement, which builds on two years of partnership and will begin in 2013, represents a natural step up for the brand according to Infiniti’s global director of Formula One Andreas Sigl.
How did the title sponsorship agreement come about?
We started out in 2011. Halfway through that season we had already upgraded and expanded our partnership both in terms of exposure and branding, but also in terms of time. Then in the background we said ‘we really would like to go all the way’, both in terms of title partner and more authentic technical contribution. I think that was the key component for the Red Bull Racing team because if you look at the complexities of running a Formula One team on one side and future regulation changes, with new engines and a new focus on Energy Recovery Systems and so forth, I think they have to be smart on picking the right partners. At the same time, like any other partnership, I think we’ve been good players. We don’t want to get involved in running the team because that is better run by a race team rather than a corporation, but from a technical point of view we have opened up. I think [team principal] Christian [Horner], [chief technical officer] Adrian [Newey] and the team have understood that we have a lot to offer and would be a good partner on a technical side.
From a branding perspective, what can we expect in 2013?
Red Bull was quite precious about its own brand. I think there’s an understanding that we can very happily co-exist. We wouldn’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater anyway because we also believe that some of the Red Bull-ness rubs off on us. We would like to go bigger and deeper. While the first two years was all about visibility and brand awareness, I think now this is our chance to go deeper into shaping opinion and getting people to understand that we make cars and not speakers or a bank or insurance product. We will be more visible but I think in a tasteful and creative way. Of course we have walked up and down the paddock and the pit-lane, looking at other brands, the Vodafones of the world and Petronas and whoever else and we’ve said ‘we like this, we don’t like that’. But I think – and you will see this hopefully by the time we launch in February – it’s one plus one is three, in terms of branding, colouration, the Infiniti brand and the Red Bull Racing brand coming together.
"We believe some of the Red Bull-ness rubs off on us"
It is the first time Red Bull Racing has sold a title sponsorship deal. What challenges does that present?
We’re not going in totally cold because we have two seasons of experience under our belt and I think we get along with the team and vice versa. We’ve already been one of the biggest players up to now so it’s not like we’re coming in and taking over. It’s not only that we’re going larger, we’re also going longer. Now we have a plan in our eyes that makes it worthwhile to do things together that we couldn’t really envisage before. Over the course of four years if it’s technical contribution from us to the team, like energy recovery systems, or if it’s contribution from them to us for developing road cars – we have a different planning horizon from a Formula One team – suddenly it makes it worthwhile on both side.
How do you intend to ensure this expanded deal filters down to Infiniti dealership level across the world?
We’ve seen already a lot of demand and that was one of the reasons why we upgraded – we had more demand from our regions, markets and retail partners than supply. This could be for an opening event, where they would like drivers or team management to appear – we’ve done some of those, most recently around the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix where we had a big event in Dubai with Sebastien Buemi. Everyone would of course like Sebastian Vettel there but he, of course, can’t be at every dealer opening. There is already work happening but I would like to go further. There is lots of room in the after-sales business, there’s opportunities in merchandising and of course the team brings along many partners – Pirelli tyres or Red Bull Racing eyewear or any of that kind of stuff. We have hundreds of prime locations, dealerships around the world. For us it’s exciting because we want to get a little bit of Formula One into each dealership – and with a four year deal it’s worthwhile planning this now because there’s a little more certainty that whatever we start we can see it through.
"It's not only that we're going larger, we're also going longer"
Do you sense Infiniti’s route into Formula One – as a sponsor rather than as a team owner or engine supplier – might be a new model for manufacturer involvement in the sport?
I’m sure some of them are looking at it – maybe before they were smiling at us in the same way they look at us in the normal automotive business and say ‘who are those guys?’ I hope we do get recognised. I would be honoured if someone would try to copy us but at the same time I’m confident also that I think we are a step ahead of them. It’s a little bit like a new toy for us as a brand, for our markets, for our regions and some of the other guys I think are just tired. We are really approaching it from a much more marketing and storytelling perspective.
That doesn’t mean we will not go into the technology but this is not just a bunch of engineers racing for the sake of racing. I think that’s a benefit and don’t forget also it happens to be the world champion team. They do stuff that others don’t do – the storytelling and media machine that’s behind Red Bull, Red Bull Media House and so forth, is also something that we have and that they have that maybe some of the other players don’t. I hope we bring a little bit of fresh air into the paddock and people have noticed – if that’s Bernie or some of the competitors and colleagues I’m talking to in the paddock they say ‘wow, you’re doing interesting stuff’ and I hope it’s inspiring to them because at the end of the day it helps the sport.