Atlas F1   Technical Focus:
F1 and the Road Car

  by Will Gray, England

In a series of articles, Will Gray investigates the input of Formula One on the road car industry, and assesses whether the manufacturers are in it for its marketing or its development potential.

Part II: Improving the Brand

Formula One is a global circus, sending its message to the fifteen countries it visits, and having television viewing figures totaling 57.8 billion - what better place for a car showroom? By becoming involved in an F1 team, any automobile manufacturer can be whoever they want to be. Image is everything in car sales - your car can be bulletproof, beautiful or luxurious, but if it is marketed at the wrong people, it won't be a success.

This is where the image-mongers of Formula One come to play. For many years before Mercedes came into Formula One, their cars were viewed as being suitable for the older, more sedate driver wanting luxury and refinement. Those qualities have not changed, but through Formula One, Mercedes have managed to shift their image to appeal to young go-getters as well as the more mature already-gots. They have also taken design cues from the Formula One cars - no leap of technology, just a different styling to give a sportier image. And it works. Jaguar knows it works. That's why they've joined the party!

In fact, the branding of what was the old Stewart team is an interesting topic. When Ford bought the team, it had a number of options - the company owns a huge amount of car companies. They chose to run their team under the Jaguar name, but underneath it's no more Jaguar than Ford or Aston Martin - or Stewart for that matter! The reason it's a Jaguar is image and competition. Ford saw Mercedes blowing away the competition on the racetrack and in turn on the road. With its other main competitor BMW joining the fray, and Toyota on the way (who could even badge their team under the Lexus brand), Ford had to go for it and get the Jaguar name up there. So Formula One has become a marketing race between the major luxury car manufacturers.

So then, why is Renault coming back into Formula One? After a number of years dominating the sport, the company pulled out, reasoning that they had achieved all they could achieve and, in a similar vein to Goodyear when they were scared away by Bridgestone, Renault also claimed that in being at the top of the sport, their reputation would only go down if someone else started winning. Whilst last in Formula One, Renault were winners, but whilst many of the public knew that 'Our Nige' won his World Championship in a Williams, and Schumi was successful in a Benetton, fewer knew that the power behind these victories was that of Renault. This is why the French company is back!

It seems a new level of branding is required in Formula One now. No longer is it good enough to be simply a supplier to the team, partnership and in-line branding are the key words now. To get the most out of Formula One, car companies are buying up part- or full-shares in teams. Mercedes have bought into McLaren, and Honda into BAR, whilst Ford have purchased the whole Stewart team and re-named it. Renault will do the same when they feel they are ready to compete.

This in itself is a clever marketing tactic, and shows the strength of branding. Renault feel that by buying Benetton, they can put cash into the team and improve it whilst still running it as Benetton. Then, once they feel it is ready to win, they will turn it into the Renault works team and aim to walk away with the spoils - and the useful product sales assistance of being World Champion. This may also be a route Honda plan to take with BAR. Meanwhile, Toyota are going it alone. That's a risky business, and their road car reputation could plummet if they arrive and don't immediately start winning - just look how the pre-season hype-developed interest in BAR fell away when they failed to appear at the top end of the grid.

Looking into the past, motor racing in general appears to pay dividends in terms of marketing. However, the once great World Sportscar championship benefited from increasing manufacturer input before collapsing to nothing when they all pulled out. This has also happened to a lesser extent in the British Touring Car Championship, and the influx of manufacturers may be a little concerning for the future of Formula One - perhaps this is why Bernie Ecclestone has just sold fifty percent of his business! If the team a manufacturer supports is not in the winning frame, it will look bad on their brand, and as more firms enter Formula One, the marketing gains will reduce. The danger is that manufacturers will only be the sport whilst they make money from it, and if so, that suggests they are in it for its marketing potential.

So do they do it all for Brand, or all for Breed? Well, at the end of the day, the two go hand in hand. Formula One does develop areas for the road car, and thus uses sponsors money to improve the breed. The branding opportunities of Formula One are gigantic, and it cannot be denied that the main reason for the influx of car manufacturers in the sport is to take advantage of these. However, by improving sales using the car buyer's interest in Formula One, the car company will become stronger and have more opportunities to explore technology. So branding indirectly improves the breed too, and if you're a winner in Formula One, you will be a winner on the road!

Read Part I: Improving the Breed

Will Gray© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
Send comments to: Terms & Conditions

[ Back to Atlas F1 Front Page ]