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The Lotus F1 team’s partnership with Trina Solar began in 2010 and is about far more than logos on cars, Jerome Mazet explained on the eve of the British Grand Prix.

21 March 2013 Michael Barber

Now a lot of people ask
me,” says Jerome Mazet,
marketing communication
director for Lotus F1
sponsor Trina Solar, “‘You’re a solar
company, why do you sponsor Formula
One? A lot of other people sponsor
soccer.’ And I reply, ‘Well, why do they
sponsor soccer? I think Formula One
is the best.’ So let me explain to you a
little bit why Formula One. First of all, a
word from Bernie [Ecclestone]: everyone
knows him!
“‘In a world of ever-increasing media
fragmentation, Formula One continues
to be one of the few sports events that
can attract major audiences, providing
companies with a unique global
marketing platform. No other sports
event outside the Olympic Games and
the Fifa World Cup provides such reach
and audience levels.’
“Obviously this is great but beyond
that we also want to feel like there’s some
shared values and I think that’s what
drives our business today – those shared
values and missions.”
Mazet is addressing a room of guests,
members of the motorsport and solar
trade press among them, at Lotus F1’s
headquarters and factory at Enstone in
south-east England during an early July
event showcasing Trina Solar’s partnership
with the team. Based in China but with
the bulk of its business done in Europe –
37 per cent of it in Germany alone – Trina
became involved with what was then
Renault F1 in May 2010 after a fall in the
cost of manufacturing solar hardware
made sports sponsorship a viable option
for the first time.
For both parties, however, there
has been more to the link-up than
putting logos on the Lotus F1 car.
Mazet takes every opportunity to stress
that this is a partnership; one which
has engendered the most successful
sustainability programme in the sport.
The man responsible for instituting that
programme, Lotus F1 chief executive
Patrick Louis, has embraced the alliance
on his own terms.
“Formula One as a sport will never
be a green sport,” says Louis, starkly,
to the assembled visitors. “Just forget
it.” Nevertheless, he has worked closely
with Trina Solar on ways of properly
integrating solar technology into Lotus
F1’s operations, to the benefit of the team
and the environment.
“So we thought about a couple of years
ago, how can we react?” he recalls. “And
the only methods we have to control
[carbon output] are the factory, the
paddock area. So that’s when we started to
try to be more intelligent about what this
might be. So we developed it with Trina
Solar and in early 2010 we first installed
the solar panels on to the motorhome.
And we are using that energy, from a pure,
financial perspective – I might say, we’re
conserving energy free of charge – but I
have to add, no, it’s not good enough.”
Together, Lotus F1 and Trina Solar
have since been developing new ideas
and guests have been invited to sample
the latest step in this process: a highly
sophisticated on-site driving simulator
75 per cent powered by the Trinamount
II photovoltaic panels on its roof.
An encounter with the machine will
bring to a close a tour of the factory
which also takes in the aerodynamics
department, the extraordinary 3D laser
printing systems used to machine parts
and moulds of fine detail from liquid
polymers, and those equally remarkable
divisions where components are precisely
fashioned by hand.
The facility, buried deep in the
Oxfordshire countryside, has more than a
hint of a comic book lair about it. Cut into
a disused quarry the aerodynamics facility,
in particular, could happily pass for the
Batcave, transplanted from fitful Gotham
to altogether more peaceful surroundings.
Appropriately enough, Lotus F1 will
announce a deal with Warner Bros later
in the week to promote The Dark Knight
Rises on its cars at the British Grand Prix.
An unhappier coincidence seems to
have befallen Trina Solar, who have
succumbed to the kind of hubristic faith
in the calendar that claims many a British
barbecue and cricket or tennis match each
year. July it may be but a summer’s day it
is most decidedly not. The opportunity
to indulge in some ironic self-deprecation
is not passed up by Ben Hill, the head of
Trina Solar Europe, who speaks of his
pleasure at being able to present a project
in what is “one of the sunniest countries
in the world, as you know”. In fact, Hill
says, rainwater can have the added benefit of cleaning dirt from the surfaces of solar
panels, thereby making them “a little bit
more effective”. Whatever the weather,
the sodden grounds of the UK are proving
surprisingly fertile for the solar industry.
“The UK, believe it or not, is probably
the third-largest market in Europe this
year for solar panels,” Hill says in his
own presentation. “You will have seen a
lot in the press about residential homes
and things like this, with the government
offering subsidies to people who put this
on their homes. All of that’s correct, and
in fact we’re almost at the point where
solar does not need subsidies anymore,
because the costs are coming down so
much, and the second half of this year
you’ll see a major amount of installations
in the UK.”
Hill later adds that having the Enstone
project as a high-profile example has
allowed Trina Solar to “do many more
systems across the UK” and it is this
which forms the crux of the partnership.
Trina Solar, which has been active in
Europe since 2005 and in the UK since
2010, is a rapidly growing company whose
staff has expanded from 1,500 to over
15,000 in five years and the travelling
Formula One circus rolls through all of
its key markets. Those countries where
the company derives most of its business
– Germany, Spain, Italy and China – all
play host to Grands Prix, as will the USA,
where Trina Solar makes 22 per cent of its
sales, from 2012 onwards. Several other
Formula One race destinations, including
Australia, India and the UK, are major
secondary markets for the company but
what is just as significant is that the sport
reaches the right kind of audience.
“It’s also about demographics because
let’s face it this is a commercial action,”
says Mazet. “We want people to know
about Trina Solar. We want our customers
to know about it. And we look at it, where
the TV viewers and attendees are our
potential customers, are our potential
investors, and also more and more our end
users, and that’s globally.”
For Mazet, this was the determining
factor in pursuing Formula One
sponsorship rather than following the
solar rush into German soccer. On
the one hand, the strong sponsorship
and high-end consumer cluster around
Formula One makes it an interesting
world in which to network. Mazet notes
that a high percentage of those involved
with the sport in this sector work in
a business-to-business capacity with
many of them representing potential investors such as banks and insurance
groups. Newer Formula One venues, he
adds, benefit from extensive government
support, and a sponsorship presence at
those races brings with it the chance to
make powerful friends.
Then there is the fact that the typical
Formula One fan in many markets is
a higher-end consumer than in other
sports. “Those people have a house, they
have a car, they like technology and are
technologically savvy,” says Mazet. “All
of those citizens of Europe, Australia
and Japan, they could be our potential
end customers, they could be looking at
having solar panels on their roofs one day.
So this is also very important for us.”
Access to the sport and to Lotus
F1 also helps reinforce relationships
that already exist within the Trina
Solar network, explains Hill. “We’re
using Formula One as an incentive for
customers,” he says, “as an incentive for
our installers and customer base because
of the experience. One of the things I
had very much planned was attending the
Formula One races.
“It was basically the business platform,
the amount of people who attend these
races and the ability for me to be able
to meet with the chief operating officer
of Nissan, who ordinarily is not going
to pick up the telephone and talk to
Trina Solar, and perhaps have a latte or
a macchiato at the race. Our business
programme has also been very interesting
for Trina Solar and one of the reasons for
our success going forward.”
There are several ways in which Trina
Solar aims to do this beyond inviting
selected clients to races. The opportunity
to meet the Lotus F1 drivers is, for some
clients, a priceless one. “To Patrick,” he
says, “the drivers are here every day, so
it’s like, ‘Ah yes, Kimi again.’ But for
most of the general public it’s like, ‘Ah,
Kimi Raikkonen! Wow!’ These are people
that the general public would never
normally meet and so it’s actually quite an
interesting incentive.”
The iRace scheme provides an even
more remarkable experience to a handful
of major clients. “If you’ve never
experienced driving a Formula One car
it’s absolutely amazing,” gushes Hill. “The
fact that you have to get up to 17,000 revs
just to move it… and I consider myself a
little bit of a Formula One-head but it is
amazing. Again, it’s a unique experience
for customers that they’re never going to
forget during their lifetime.
“You can take them to a football match,
you can take them to an ice hockey match,
but having them drive a Formula One car
and actually, almost more excitingly, have
them sit behind a Formula One driver
[Lotus tester Ho-Pin Tung] in a two-seat
Formula One car – I was sat behind him
and he nearly killed me! But I will never
forget the experience. I will never replace
Kimi Raikkonen and Romain [Grosjean],
I can promise you that.”
Yet hospitality and small-scale activation
have not been the forces behind,
according to Mazet’s estimate, UK£10
million worth of media exposure for Trina
Solar in its sponsorship of Lotus F1. Nor
are they the reason why the company has
managed to assemble a small troop of
motorsport and solar business journalists
in a small Oxfordshire village on a drizzly
July morning. It is the technological
aspects of the partnership that look set to
capture the imagination.
“It’s about delivering smart and
accessible energy solutions to power
a future with more choices,” explains
Mazet. For Lotus F1, the installation
of a solar-powered simulator is a small
but significant step towards overcoming
two competitive obstacles as well. The
renewable energy component ensures
that it makes a shallower impact than it
might do on the team’s “tremendous”
energy bill – with every penny counting
in the Resource Restriction Agreement
era. Not only that, but with on-track
testing limited almost out of existence
during the modern Formula One season,
ownership of a sophisticated simulator
provides another means of eking out a
small racing advantage.
Like its rivals in Formula One, Lotus
F1 gives its aerodynamicists access to a
wind tunnel as well as a supercomputer
the size of a dining hall, operating at many
thousands of times the capacity of the
kind of systems with which most would be
familiar, on which they can run complex
computational fluid dynamics (CFD)
calculations. For Louis, neither of these
are enough on their own.
“It’s not sufficient to do it with a
supercomputer. You have seen another
racing team in red and black [Virgin
Racing] – they thought they could do
it without a wind tunnel – but it’s all complementary. With the CFD you can
simulate what you can’t simulate in a
wind tunnel because the model would
melt but you have always to recheck the
results that you expect are coming or not.
What happened last year, in 2011, is that
the track result was completely different
from what you expected because the
atmospheric factors are not the same as
you thought. So our driving simulator is a
new tool trying to create performance and
not wasting natural resources.”
With phenomenally detailed maps
available for each track, the simulator not
only provides test and race drivers with
the means to familiarise themselves with
Grand Prix courses, but also a chance
to tinker with set-ups and tactics ahead
of each race weekend. When test driver
Jerome D’Ambrosio spins unexpectedly
during his demonstration of a run at
an unfeasibly sunny Silverstone, the
engineer operating the test is able to
calmly explain that the young Belgian is
experimenting with the optimum zones to
deploy the car’s DRS system, something
which dramatically alters downforce and,
subsequently, grip.
Louis reveals that as the simulator
programme becomes more sophisticated
it will create more opportunities to engage
the test drivers, who are more idle during
the season than in years gone by, and to
retain the services of race engineers for
whom the intensity of the global Formula
One journey has become unappealing.
“Family comes first,” says Louis of the
motivations of those who drop out of the
race weekend team but he believes their
expertise can prove invaluable back at
Enstone. “The idea for us is to use it in the
future to test a virtual car,” he reveals. “To
test virtual parts. Since we have no track
time on testing – or it’s very, very limited
– we have to use these resources.”
Mazet believes that the simulator project
and the use of solar panels in the Lotus
motorhome exemplify the kind of thinking
that can see solar technology further
integrated into the team’s operations.
“We understand it’s not possible today
to have Formula One fully powered with
solar panels,” he says. “It’s only stupid
people who think like this. But what if we
wanted to try going in this direction: what
about if we take those flat, square solar
panels apart and you take the smaller one
and see how you can play with it and have
something fun and see what we can do?”
At this point, Mazet shows his audience
an illustration of a concept for siliconcoated
Formula One driver’s helmet. This
would be coated in small photovoltaic
panels, with the electrical system built into
it capable, he speculates, of powering the
driver’s radio to the pit lane.
“That’s an introduction,” he says.
“That’s something interesting. And that’s
something that captures the attention of
the public right now: ‘I’ve never thought
about a solar panel for this. If it could
work for Kimi… hold on, let me think a
bit more about this.’”
Such brainwaves, while apparently
small in scale, very much define
the partnership on a practical level.
Collaborations with technological and
engineering corporations are not unusual
in Formula One. While leading the tour
of Lotus’ aerodynamics facility, the
team’s senior account manager Luca
Mazzocco speaks enthusiastically about
a non-commercial information-sharing
partnership with Boeing. For companies
like the aerospace giant the real-world
feedback available from Formula One
can take research and development in
new and unexpected directions.
Mazet makes the comparison between
the Kinetic Energy Recovery System
[KERS] in Formula One – which retains
energy used each time a car brakes in an
onboard battery for power gains later in
a lap – and the technology Trina Solar is
trying to develop to make solar batteries
more effective. With a breakthrough in
that area capable of taking solar well into
the mainstream – not least in countries like
the UK where the overhead conditions can
be, to put it charitably, unpredictable – the
potential benefits of further collaboration
become fully apparent.
Even as it moves to smaller engines and
more efficient fuels on the track much
of Formula One’s sustainability initiative
will be dismissed in some quarters as
window dressing, not least given the huge
air freight and passenger traffic involved
in keeping the competition going year
after year. But for a team like Lotus, there
is still an obvious upside to being able to
take huge chunks from its energy bill and
allowing it to divert resources to more
ambitious and innovative projects.
As the voiceover to a Trina Solar video
promoting the partnership attests, “It’s a
start. It’s progress.” 

72 2012 09 Eoin Connolly {filedir_26}SportsProMag_issue47_MAG_72-75.pdf [26388] [sportspro_september_2012] SportsPro September 2012