Red Bull Racing has announced today that it has signed an interesting new partnership deal with Infiniti, the luxury Nissan brand, which is part of the Renault family. Reuters has valued the deal at around £8 million.
The deal is principally a branding play at this stage; Red Bull is very high profile, its cars are winning races and championships, its drivers are always in the news for a multitude of reasons and Infiniti will have branding on the cars and drivers during the season. If performance in testing is anything to go by, rival drivers will spend plenty of time this season starting at the Infiniti branding on the RB7’s rear wing.
Contrary to some reports on the internet in the last 24 hours, Infiniti will not rebrand the Renault engines in the back of the Red Bull cars, however the door is open in the deal for technical collaboration in the future on areas like KERS and battery technology.
What makes this move so interesting is that Renault has been in the process of pulling back from F1 in the last two years and yet this is a move in the opposite direction for the group. Red Bull is the happening team, but it’s an interesting fit in terms of the edgy, youth appeal of Red Bull with the steady image of Infiniti, a luxury brand which has been focussed on the US market primarily. Clearly the objective on Infiniti’s side is primarily to sell more cars in markets where F1 is strong, like Europe and Asia and to lower its customer age, as has always been the aim for Mercedes in F1.
It is also going against the flow of Japanese manufacturers quitting the sport, as Toyota and Honda did in 2008/9 in the teeth of the global financial crisis. This is good news for the sport and is welcomed by team principals throughout the grid. It follows Mercedes’ enhanced commitment to the sport yesterday as a very positive indicator of the sport’s value as a platform and its relative stability after several years of turmoil. As some of the big names have walked out, some smaller names have been walking in, such as Lada, Lotus, Infiniti, Marussia and even Tata.
“It’s a good news story for Red Bull and for Formula One that a prestige brand like Infiniti has chosen to come into the sport at a time when, in the recent past, manufacturers have elected to leave, “said Red Bull racing boss Christian Horner. “There are facilities within Infiniti and Nissan we can only dream of as an independent team, so an alliance like this allows us to tap into some of the key technical know-how.”
Renault meanwhile, has gone from owning and funding its own team to being solely an engine and technology supplier to three teams in F1. Its former team, based at Enstone and now owned 100% by Genii Capital, is still called Renault due to penalties in the Concorde Agreement for changing the chassis name. A deal with Group Lotus has led to the official name changing to Lotus Renault GP Team. Lotus has a call option to purchase a “substantial” shareholding in the team in 2012 and we will see what happens to the team and its name after that.
This deal will inevitably bring RBR closer to the Renault Sport F1 operation in Paris.
As it fights the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren, the Red Bull management know that their weakness is in R&D in areas which have crossover in the automotive field, like hybrid and battery technology and packaging.
Red Bull Racing had enjoyed strong links with Audi for many years now without it leading to a manufacturer engine deal or a technology deal; the key personnel have traditionally been driven about in Audis.
Audi has yet to decide whether the new age of F1 post 2013, with its emphasis on sustainable racing technology is the right environment for it. Perhaps this move by Red Bull with a rival brand will help to focus their minds.
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