Lewis Hamilton is bigger than McLaren

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The news that Lewis Hamilton is courting a 10m sponsorship deal with Reebok is interesting not because of the amount of money involved, but because of what it says about his relationship with McLaren.

When people started talking about the immense marketing potential of F1’s first successful mixed-race driver F1 fans were quick to note that McLaren may stop him from maximising that value.

McLaren generally do not allow their drivers to arrange personal sponsorship deal (nor do many of the other top teams, it seems) but an exception is being made for Hamilton just as it was for his hero Ayrton Senna when he joined the team 20 years ago.

Senna was allowed to bring personal sponsorship from Brazilian bank Nacional with him (see picture below). Hamilton and father/manager Anthony apparently have negotiated the same exemption from McLaren’s usual rules on driver personal sponsorship that Senna had.

Football fans are familiar with players who become bigger than their clubs – David Beckham at Manchester United being an example. Is this a sign Hamilton is going down the same route?

According to The Times, Hamilton’s annual earnings now exceed Beckham’s, making him the highest-paid British sportsperson, and may be bolstered in the near future by another deal with Pepsi. The rights to his autobiography were sold last year for a reported 2m and both the hardback and paperback are among the top ten F1 books on Amazon (even though it’s rubbish).

McLaren must be wary of the phenomenon of the driver becoming bigger than the team. Even with a driver of Senna’s genius, indulging it at the team’s expense ended up compromising the outfit. By 1993 McLaren had lost their works Honda engine deal and the cost of meeting Senna’s salary demands plus paying for engines ate into the budget for car development. After Senna left it was four years before the team won another Grand Prix.

Ironically the announcement comes mere days after a Hamilton was ridiculed in the press for a truly awful public relations stunt for McLaren principal sponsor Vodafone, in which he appeared in a stage production of Troy. His Reebok contract better rule out further such nonsense with fellow ‘brand ambassadors’ Thierry Henry, Amir Khan, 50 Cent and Jay-Z.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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28 comments on “Lewis Hamilton is bigger than McLaren”

  1. Drivers salaries and endorsements are always fascinatingly interesting. Are there any realistic figures and breakdowns out there of what each of the drivers are on (I hear Fernando and Kimi earn around $50million/year)?

    Are/Is there any figures (or research) on how the sponsors quantify their endorsement deals and how much a driver brings in terms of sales e.g. i heard that Philips Shavers association with Williams has boosted the sales by over 100 million with this product.

  2. There may be a good reason for McLaren allowing Hamilton so much freedom in accepting personal sponsorship. Consider how much that reduces the pressure on Lewis and Anthony Hamilton to screw as much as possible out of Ron Dennis in their negotiations on salary. If they can count on huge sums coming from the likes of Reebok and Pepsi, it becomes much less important how much Ron pays them.

    Although salaries and sponsorship deals have increased astronomically since Senna’s day, I have no doubt that it was his personal sponsorship that gave Senna the flexibility to offer his services to Frank Williams for absolutely nothing. Since that time there has been speculation that Ayrton would have backed down if Frank had accepted, but I think he was perfectly serious. He knew the McLaren was going nowhere and the only car to be in for the foreseeable future was a Williams.

  3. i’m gonna go and buy some reebok classics now, it’ll make me drive faster wont it?.

  4. What I was thinking is if this is the real equality policy class that Ron have managed throughout these years???? Please, let this guy to try and win two WDC and then let him free to sign any personal sponsonship he likes, but until then I find this policy out of business.

  5. There’s a great story about Ayrton Senna’s Nacional sponsorship and McLaren. It was a big issue between Ayrton and Ron when the Brazilian first joined the team and (if I remember rightly) there was an agreement that Nacional logos wouldn’t be displayed in McLaren team publicity. But Senna turned up for his first McLaren photoshoot with an enormous Nacional patch on his overalls, as in the picture above. Ron was furious but didn’t let on. Instead, he got Ayrton to stand with Alain Prost and had them shake hands. Prost was asked to stand on the left, meaning Senna had to reach across to shake Alain’s hand, the Brazilian’s arm completely obscuring… the Nacional logo!

  6. michael counsell
    14th May 2008, 18:43

    Bigger than McLaren? Does he have a turnover of half a billion dollars?

    In the same way Beckham wasn’t bigger than Manchester United. Alex Ferguson could still leave him on the bench etc. Admittedly he left but it didn’t really affect the team too much but I digress.

    If McLaren don’t have an official sportswear sponsor it makes sense to let Lewis get personal sponsorship. After all people wear clothes not F1 cars. If all the pit crew and engineers wore Nike (for example) sponsored and branded clothes and shoes then there may be an issue.

    Lewis Hamilton still needs to progress a bit to achieve the Tiger Woods / Michael Schumacher level of earning but he also needs to achieve their sporting success too.

  7. His book isn’t rubbish – I loved it as well as the Mark Hughes one, and I got 2 signed copies (gave one to my mater). Good for him – he is loved by many who do not usually follow F1 (despite, as you frequently say, him being the most hated man in F1), as well as F1 afficionados. He has opened F1 to many countries who never bothered with it before: Africa, the Caribbean; and also is very popular in South America, and South East Asia. He has a greater appeal than many sports stars, and has ridden the Troy stunt well by being honest about it.

    Bring it on for Lewis, I say! I shall be buying my next trainers from Reebok for sure! Don’t know if I’ll stretch to Pepsi though…

  8. Allegedly Schumacher didn’t go to McLaren when he left Renault because of an issue of personal sponsorship. Ferrari were willing to accept it – also a bank as it goes.

    I wonder if it was that that forced the issue or all of the problems with the insurance company that is effectively Alonso’s personal sponsor. Or indeed Santander who loved it last year and must be at least a bit annoyed this year.

  9. “He has opened F1 to many countries who never bothered with it before: Africa, the Caribbean; and also is very popular in South America, and South East Asia.”

    I think Lewis is much more of a Brtish phenomena then a world wide thing really, which isn’t to bad because Britain properly has one of the biggest motorsport cultures.

    Being what you would call from a “non-F1 country”, I can tell you that there isn’t any new interest in F1 because Lewis is there. The same people still watch and they are still devoted to their favorites.

    Of course you cant deny the effect Lewis has made in some circles.

  10. I don’t think it is strange that Lewis is getting personal sponsors for himself.

    I though all the drivers had some personal endorsements.

    Alonso has Santander and I recall some watches he also promotes? I recall recently Raikkonen has been doing lots of Tag Heuer photo shoots and promotions (which BTW was strange because I thought they where a Maclaren sponsor?), and has very recently signed a big deal with MTV3. Why shouldn’t Hamilton also have a few endorsements?

  11. You don’t have to win anything to get major sponsorship money, just be attractive and marketable. Michelle Wie makes millions and has never won, nor probably ever will win, a golf tournament, Anna Kournikova made a fortune and never won an important tennis tournament. Lewis should grab as much as he can; things can change quickly.

  12. I would like to second you Melanie on the fact, that Lewis-mania is pretty much a British thing(a small percentage of the rest of the world is an exception). We, the rest of the world wouldn’t mind it too much, if only all the sources for F1 weren’t all too British. Which means it is sometimes(can i say, this is again a nominee for understatement of the year) imposed on us. Yes, he is a fine racer, but there are others too(who are racing equally well, better sometimes), in which we are interested and wished that they get as much coverage as him.

  13. Hamilton is no Senna

  14. I have a feeling we are going to see much more personal sponsorship of the drivers, either with the teams consent or without, since it costs a lot for the team to train and massage the egos of the drivers.
    As I remember correctly ‘Taxi Driver’ Schumacher always wore his personal sponsorship cap during interviews to ensure the money came in – presumably Ferrari were quite happy since it meant they weren’t paying some bills – and since he finished racing Schuey has been advertising vans too!
    So the logical step is for most, if not all the drivers to find their own sources of income, either to keep them completely independant of the team (if they are successful enough)or to help the teams finances (and there have always been ‘Pay to Drive’ drivers).
    After all, every other type of sportsman (and woman)from athletes to golfers to sailors can all have personal sponsors, so why not racing drivers? And I have a feeling watching IRL and NASCAR that American drivers may need it just to get in the team….

  15. Just a few things:

    “He has opened F1 to many countries who never bothered with it before: Africa, the Caribbean; and also is very popular in South America, and South East Asia.” I have no data about Africa and Caribbean. In South America F1 has been popular since the beginning, and they have their history with drivers like Fangio. And i know FOM is trying in Asia, but i’m not sure if they are succeding.

    Kimi, Alonso, Sato are allowed to have personal sponsors because they drive (Sato drove) in teams which allow it. The problem is not Hamilton, the problem is in Mclaren they have some rules: equality with both drivers, no personal sponsorships are allowed, drivers can’t keep their trophys because trophys are for the team… You can agree or not with this rules, but i think in Mclaren are making exceptions with Lewis.

  16. So much so for equality. now Hamilton’s got personal sponsors. Why not Heikki? Well, i just think it is about time we asked this to that hypocrite Ron to put him in a spot of bother. :D

  17. Lets wait if we will see his sponsors logo on his overalls. His private sponsorship might just be him appearing in some commercials. Which is no big deal. Concerning driver equality, who said Heikki can’t have personal sponsors?

  18. “Allegedly Schumacher didn’t go to McLaren when he left Renault because of an issue of personal sponsorship. Ferrari were willing to accept it – also a bank as it goes.”

    I think DVMB is a company that does multi-level marketing, not banking.

    “Alonso has Santander and I recall some watches he also promotes?”

    He lost Santander when he left McLaren. His only personal sponsor is Mutua Madrilena.

    “I recall recently Raikkonen has been doing lots of Tag Heuer photo shoots and promotions (which BTW was strange because I thought they where a Mclaren sponsor?)”

    TAG ended their team sponsorship deal with McLaren in 2006. Since then, they’ve been signing individual sponsorship deals with drivers. Right now, they have Hamilton, Alonso, and Raikkonen on board. (Yep, the top 3 of modern F1 is with them. Can’t get much better than that, can it?)

  19. Silly me, I meant DVAG, not DVMB. :)

  20. Hey, hey, hey Ollie, i just wanted to give the ol’ man Ron some spot of bother. Also, McLaren does NOT allow its drivers to have personal sponsorship. This is also mentioned there in the write-up by Keith. Now, it does not take too much to add 1+1 to get 2, or does it?

  21. Frecon, I made a point of using a semi-colon before I mentioned South America, because I am well aware that F1 has been popular there for some time. I didn’t say Lewis has attracted people to F1 for the first time from S America: I limited that to Africa and the Caribbean. Please read my post carefully before challenging what’s within it.

    I know about Africa and the Caribbean because I have read and heard a lot of comments about him opening up the market there, as well as a lot of fan comments from those areas. I have also read that Lewis is a “god” in Brazil and hugely popular in SE Asia.

  22. sChUmAcHeRtHeGrEaTeStEvEr
    15th May 2008, 12:59

    senna was reportedly on $1 million per race in 1993, raikkonen is on about £1million per race, i dont know what the difference would be in todays money but i doubt its a huge difference.

    I think its almost a copy of the senna situation, i thio#nk mclaeren allowed senna his own personal sponsors because they knew he was the future adn he was going to be the best driver in f1 to have. i think mclaren feel the same will happen with hamilton and the happier hamilton is and the more money he earns outside of mclaren the less he will ask for from mclaren for his basic salary, as someone pointed out earlier. i dont see whats wrong with it personally, like others said schumacher always wore that DEKSTRA cap after the races etc.

    good luck to him i think having someone like lewis promoting the likes of reebok and pepsi (brands who usually only use footballers to advertise their product) will spread thne appeal of formula 1 worldwide.

  23. Sorry S Hughes: you were talking about Hamilton opening markets, and i didn’t realize next sentence wasn’t linked with the previous argument. I didn’t try to offend you.

    Journeyer: Actually Alonso didn’t lose Santander. Now he has a new personal sponsor which is Universia. Universia is one of the brands registered by Santander for bussines not related with banks.

  24. “… F1’s first successful mixed-race driver”

    “MIXED RACE”? He was black last year, but now with Reebok in his pocket he needs to expand his image.

    Wouldn’t it have been nice if Hamilton, the rising star, PERSONALLY had drawn interest to F1, why does “race”, mixed or black have anything to do with it?

    Let me re-write the second sentence in the article:

    When people started talking about the immense marketing potential of F1’s MOST SUCCESSFUL ROOKIE driver F1 fans were quick to note that McLaren may stop him from maximising that value.

    There that’s better.

  25. There was a good article in F1 Magazine a few months ago about McLaren testing Lambourgini V12 engines back in 1993, and Senna apparently loved it.
    The only problem was that they had a tendency to blow up, and McLaren dropped the idea naturally. The article
    gives the impression that Senna loved the engine so much, for its sheer power, that he desperately tried to get Dennis to change his mind.
    When Ron declined, that was moreorless the end of the Senna/McLaren relationship and he went to Williams.
    I like the point that you make Keith, about Senna’s wage demands eating into McLaren’s budget, and there is probably an element of truth in that.
    However, if Senna’s influence at McLaren was as extensive as you suggest, why did Ron Dennis turn his nose up at the Lambourgini deal, effectively sending Senna to Williams as F1 Magazine alledge?
    The reason is obvious. Ron Dennis calls the shots, and makes the decisions, as Fernando can testify.
    Lewis, you have been warned my son!!!

  26. I am here to say that i never used to watch formula one with my friends until lewis came along. Now we can’t wait for the next episode. He is cool, handsome and intelligent. However we find all the other guys very cool too. I am at Uni here but back in malaysia people have really taken to lewis, people who never knew what f1 was all about. I don’t understand this hate thing, but i think most of it is to do with spanish fans due to alonso. It is illogical and stupid to hate someone because of his colour.

  27. Michael Counsell
    16th May 2008, 3:18

    That’s true but no one whos posted hates Lewis and that’s not really the point of this. The point is not much.

  28. Isabel,the reason for the split in people’s perceptions about Hamilton ie love him or hate him, is very simple; he’s disrespectful of others, particularly those who have established reputations and are recognised as being authoratative, he’s arrogant in the extreme about his own abilitites, he’s reticent in the extreme when it comes to admitting his own errors, and perhaps the worst offence is simply that he doesnt’t appear to care that his attitude causes offence; it’s always someone elses problem, not his.

    This isn’t a recent phenomenon. His ‘monkeys at the back’ comment came only 5 GP’s into his career and wasn’t a glitch, it was typical of his attitude then and now. He is and always has been arrogant and disrespectful. It’s only now that people are beginning to see what was apparent right from the start. It has nothing to do with race or colour; thought it would be an easy step to make the connection between the two in hamilton’s own mind and perhaps this ‘reverse racism’ is a factor in his own attitude.

    As for his book ‘My Story’, it is full of clues as to why he’s the, not entirely universally liked person he is today, and most of them begin with the phrase ‘my Dad……’

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