One interesting side story of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend has been the growing influence of the local International Petroleum Investment Company on the Toro Rosso team.
This was symbolised over the weekend by the presence of a rallying message to Emiratis on the rear wing endplate of Jean Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo’s cars, “Kullunna Khalifa”, which means means “We are all Khalifa” – in other words a message designed to make the people in the region buy into the Abu Dhabi event and their presence in it as participants and reminding them that the eyes of the world are on Abu Dhabi this weekend via the global TV audience of around 200 million for the race. The message was unveiled at a lavish event in IPIC’s headquarters, hosted by SKY TV’s Martin Brundle on Wednesday.
“The grand prix here in Abu Dhabi is one of the highlights for Scuderia Toro Rosso because we have a very close business relationship with IPIC,” Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost said in the FIA press conference on Thursday.
It’s interesting because IPIC now has a powerful influence on the Toro Rosso team, with most of its non-Red Bull sponsorship income deriving from companies owned by the group: Nova, Falcon Bank and Spanish oil giant CEPSA. This latter one was very keen to have Carlos Sainz Jr into the seat to be vacated by Ricciardo next season. However Red Bull driver programme director Helmut Marko won this particular battle to place Russian teenager Daniil Kvyat in the car. Kvyat clinched the GP3 championship here in Abu Dhabi this weekend.
The IPIC involvement is led by it’s boss Khadem Al Qubaisi, who has been a regular fixture at Grands Prix in recent years and informed paddock opinion sees this group becoming shareholders in a team soon, perhaps Toro Rosso, depending on Red Bull’s long term strategy for its junior team.
The group knows F1 well; IPIC owns Aabar, which was until recently a shareholder in the Mercedes F1 team.
It’s well worth keeping an eye on this group in the months and years ahead.