Analysis: Are sponsors back in love with F1?

Force India is in the pink, but McLaren is still seeking a title sponsor. What's the current sponsorship climate like in F1 under the sport's new owners? Kate Walker analyses.

Analysis: Are sponsors back in love with F1?
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W08, and Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70H, prepare to lead the field away for the start
Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL32, leads Esteban Ocon, Force India VJM10
Esteban Ocon, Sahara Force India F1 VJM10
Esteban Ocon, Sahara Force India F1 VJM10
Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren MCL32
Sergio Perez, Sahara Force India F1 VJM10
Fernando Alonso, McLaren, and Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren
Felipe Massa, Williams FW40
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W08
The McLaren MCL32
Felipe Massa, Williams FW40, leads Kevin Magnussen, Haas F1 Team VF-17
Track atmosphere, Heineken branding
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W08, leads Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70H, Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1 W08, and the rest of the field
Williams FW40
Emirates branding on the circuit

The start of an F1 season traditionally sees a flurry of press releases announcing new and extended sponsorship and partnership details. The beginning of 2017 was no different, with announcements of deals both large and small arriving on a near-daily basis.

In the Albert Park paddock in March, there was a mood of optimism in the air. Not only were the VIP enclosures busier and more bustling than in recent years, but the paddock itself was packed and fizzing with energy.

We are in the honeymoon period of the Liberty ownership, a phase in which anything is possible, and the trackside atmosphere reflects that.

But is F1's change of ownership having an impact on the wider world, or is the sense of optimism restricted to the F1 bubble? Bernie Ecclestone and his occasional off-message comments were said to have been one of the obstacles facing blue-chip companies keen on entering Formula 1.

Now that the octogenarian has been relegated to emeritus status, has F1 become more appealing to sponsors?

One team that would give you a resounding 'yes' is Force India, who announced a late livery change - to pink, magenta, and silver - following a significant deal with water technology specialists BWT.

The partnership, rumoured to be worth £16 million, is said to be the largest single investment in the team's history, and represents a significant boost in the development race.

That Force India has been able to secure such a significant deal is interesting of itself. For the bulk of the team's short history, the majority of stickering on the car has been from companies owned by or linked with team owner Vijay Mallya and his string of business interests.

Mallya has spent the past few years fighting the Indian banks over alleged debts relating to the collapse of some of those businesses, and has received considerable bad press in the process.

In the meantime, Force India has been quietly been making a name for itself as Formula 1's 'little engine that could' - a team consistently capable of punching above its financial weight and delivering solid results in the championship.

Force India's efforts on track have managed to outweigh the bad publicity currently surrounding its owner Vijay Mallya, and the Silverstone-based team has been deemed an attractive investment prospect.

McLaren's case

One team currently suffering the effects of several years of subpar performances on track is McLaren, who has raced without a title sponsor since the Vodafone deal expired in 2013.

The dethroning of Ron Dennis led to some negative coverage for the team in the specialist media, but by and large McLaren has in recent years enjoyed a growing reputation as a leader in British manufacturing - thanks to the efforts of Automotive and Applied Engineering departments, rather than the results of its F1 team.

Ongoing partnerships with the likes of GSK have seen the McLaren brand retain its gloss and its reputation for technological and engineering excellence, but when it comes to stickering the Formula 1 car, by and large recent deals have been on the smaller side.

But the deals are coming in: in the past two months Logitech was announced as peripherals partner, New Era was named headwear partner, and the much anticipated BP Castrol technical collaboration was confirmed.

McLaren's current lack of sponsorship can be blamed on a lack of championship success in recent years, but at the sharper end of the grid, where Mercedes has dominated for the past three years, there hasn't been much movement on the sponsorship front since the sport changed hands.

Wihuri made the move from Williams alongside Valtteri Bottas, but given that it's a personal sponsor, that was only to be expected.

The top teams

Mercedes announced a supply deal with OMP Racing, and another with Axalta, but there were no massive winter deals with the world's biggest brands seeking to associate themselves with the reigning world champion team.

There was not much in the way of big-name sponsor news for Red Bull, Ferrari, or Williams either, to round out the top four.

The off-season saw an earphones deal for Red Bull Racing, while Ferrari did no press at all. Both Bombardier and JCB joined Williams in Lance Stroll-linked deals, but that was it for big deals at the head of the pack.

All in al, it was relatively slim pickings considering the projected growth of the sport we've all heard so much about.

In recent years the biggest sponsorship deals in Formula 1 - Rolex, Emirates, Heineken - have all gone to the sport itself, with limited pickings available to individual teams.

Thus far, the sport's new owners appear to be leaving the path clear for teams to seek funding rather than making the counter offers so familiar under the old regime.

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