Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago – Pete Seeger (1955)
Such changes are unique: a cursory glance through F1’s history books reveals over 120 team names have had a shot at motor racing’s premier category. Just 10 are entered for this season and two of them will race under new team names approved last week.
Most of today’s roster have had different identities in the past. Renault has had more names than championship titles in its own right. Quadruple champions Red Bull grew out of Ford’s disillusion with Jaguar, formerly.
Toro Rosso’s roots lie in one of the most fondly-recalled F1 teams of old, Minardi. The Faenza squad was originally an F2 team bankrolled by local Fiat garage. It’s easy to forget the tiny team once led a grand prix and even bumped Ayrton Senna’s might McLaren off the front row before F1’s escalating financial pressures took their toll. After five years under the ownership of Paul Stoddard, Red Bull acquired the team and rebranded it as the driver development platform we know today.
Mercedes? According to the company’s registration information, the most successful team of recent times was once (champions) Brawn, (lacklustre) Honda, and (so-so) BAR before that, having started life as (1971 constructors’ champion) Tyrrell in 1968. Where the original outfit raced under its founder’s name for 30 seasons, it has since changed names thrice in 12 years.
[retrompuminardi01]Today only three teams still race under their original registrations: Ferrari (F1 entry 1950), McLaren (1966) and Williams (continuously as a constructor since 1978, though previously under other guises and as a customer).
Granted, over the past 70-odd years Ferrari underwent a number of restructures – from sole proprietorship through majority Fiat control to a listing on the New York Stock Exchange – but that fact remains that it still races largely in red and enters as Scuderia Ferrari – with the founder’s son being a shareholder.
Although McLaren moved from proprietary ownership to largely Arabian ownership via a series of transactions, but Bruce McLaren’s vision remains intact. Yes, Williams is now a listed entity (on Börse Frankfurt) – but founder Sir Frank Williams still holds a majority share, and is thus the oldest team racing in the hands of its founder. There is but one other: Haas F1 Team, founded in 2016.
Sauber was part of the select club of teams still under their original identities until last week, when the F1 Commission unanimously approved a change of team/chassis name for the Swiss team to Alfa Romeo Racing.
Peter Sauber’s maiden F1 car made its debut in 1993, and raced as BMW Sauber for four years (2006-09) after the Bavarian company (briefly) acquired a majority slice. However, the car company soon exited F1, forcing Peter to return to ownership in order to safeguard his life’s work plus all-important jobs in his hometown.
Thus Sauber continued racing as the longest surviving team still racing under its original name outside the trio above. Then in commercial matters overtook heritage when the business changed hands.
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After some fallow seasons, and desperately inept financial juggling outside of Peter Sauber’s control, the team ended up under the control of Longbow Finance, a low-profile Swiss investment fund with Swedish links. A little under a year ago the Sauber financial portfolio was moved into a separate company – Islero Investments AG, registered at Sauber’s Hinwil domicile – although Longbow management remains very much in control.
Last year the team raced in red and white as Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team through a title sponsorship deal. This was more in the vein of the former Infiniti Red Bull relationship rather than a technical supply arrangement, with Ferrari supplying powertrains and reserving the right to nominate drivers: Charles Leclerc in 2018 and Antonio Giovinazzi this season.
While Ferrari and Alfa are no longer sister companies under the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles umbrella – Ferrari’s listing moved the company out of FCA’s direct control – their joint DNAs run deep, and thus the arrangement has an element of historic authenticity to it. Indeed, Enzo Ferrari once managed Alfa’s racing division.
The record books also show that Alfa Romeo contested two previous F1 campaigns: early ’50s, when it won the 1950/1 world titles – gazumping Ferrari to the grid after the Scuderia failed to pitch for the inaugural round, and is thus the oldest name in F1 – and again in the late ’70s / early ’80s, when it achieved a highest championship placing of sixth. In addition, Alfa supplied various teams during its second campaign.
Nonetheless, last year rumours swirled about options that could see the Sauber team name dropped for 2019 and beyond – in exchange for increased fees, of course – although the company would still be a subsidiary of and be controlled by Islero.
Last week that came to pass. Swedish sources suggested the full-blown naming/livery switch to Alfa Romeo Racing costs the Milanese marque an additional €10m per year, bringing Alfa’s total contribution to €30m (£26m) annually – in real terms a pittance compared to Daimler’s support of Mercedes F1 Team (£80m), or Renault’s contribution to its F1 team (£90m).
Yes, Alfa Romeo Racing is unlikely to win grands prix under the current regulatory and commercial framework, but, then, which team outside the top three can? Ask Renault. Or Honda. Or Williams, for that matter. That is the crux of the Alfa Romeo deal: for the retail equivalent of 650 Guilia or Stelvio units, Alfa gets to be mentioned in the same global sporting breath as Mercedes and Ferrari.
The deal is said to be for two years – taking brand and team neatly through to the end of 2020, precisely the point at which F1 is scheduled to undergo major changes on both the technical and commercial fronts. Will Alfa stay beyond that timeframe?
It’s impossible to predict but in any event, changing team/chassis names within two years is fraught with obstacles, not least that changes largely rely on goodwill from the F1 Commission, which counts all grid peers amongst its members. So an initial two-year window makes sense.
The entire name change process is outlined here but, significantly, Sauber applied to switch from a historic name, albeit one carrying some baggage towards the end, to the vastly more marketable Alfa Romeo brand, and thus F1’s 24-strong Commission approved the request unanimously. Equally, apart from a name-change hiccup after BMW’s exit almost a decade ago (which temporarily led to an absurd ‘BMW Sauber-Ferrari’ monkier) Sauber has a clean record in this regard.
[retrompujordan01]Not so Force India, whose change to Racing Point is the fourth since Eddie Jordan sold the team. Russo-Canadian buyer Alex Shnaider relabelled it was Midland F1 ahead of the next season, but within a year he had sold it on to Dutch boutique sports car brand Spyker, which in turn moved it to Vijay Mallya’s Orange India consortium another year on.
(Little known is that Mallya had a run with then-F1 tsar Bernie Ecclestone over his chosen Force India moniker after the Indian had chosen the name in the hope to fashion the initials of the team into an F1 likeness, but the wily Bernie soon cottoned on and blocked the logo. Thus the flag-like F and dotted I was hurriedly substituted.)
In fact, through Mallya’s links with the liquor industry, a name switch to Johnnie Walker Racing was mooted three years ago. Thus the team came close to six names in a little over a decade…
Although Mallya hoped to ride out the team’s cash crunch until F1 resets in 2021, as his empire crumbled so it became inevitable that he’d be forced to sell out sooner or later. The decision was eventually taken out of his hands by an entity linked to driver Checo Perez, which sued for overdue wages. Following a convoluted asset sale process and another name change loomed – to Racing Point Force India.
The team’s management previously stated Racing Point was an ‘off-the-shelf company’ and/or ‘placeholder’ name and alluded to a change away from Racing Point once its plans firmed up – yet had officially entered for 2019 under plain Racing Point despite having raced under its (approved) name of Racing Point Force India after the team’s take-over by Lawrence Stroll and associates in August.
In typical F1 fashion the entry process is as clear as mud: once approved as an entrant by the FIA, a team may enter under any name it wishes provided it meets the governing body’s standards of decency; however, if it wishes to qualify for revenues it needs to fulfil certain commercial right holder conditions, which include longevity of name – or seek concessions from the Commission where a team wishes to deviate.
It seems the team ran out of time or options, for a fortnight ago it filed a formal request to drop ‘Force India’. This was approved by 22 (of 24) Commission votes. Given the unsavoury connotations of Force India following Mallya’s legal issues – his extradition to India on fraud charges was recently approved by the UK Home Office – one would have thought there existed a unanimous desire to drop the previous team name.
Yet two folks voted against it. Were they protesting against Stroll, and the controversial process by which he acquired the team? Anti Racing Point as a name? Whatever, given that e-votes are secret, the full truth is unlikely to out any time soon, but the salient issue is the team will race (excuse puns) under its approved name in 2019.
Would the e-vote have been anonymous had the team settled upon the more evocative Lola branding rather than the considerably blander Racing Point moniker, as per information provided to RaceFans by a source in the loop? It must, though, be stressed that the team refused to comment about any such negotiations.
Why have such name changes become so commonplace? Of the three new teams which entered F1 under the 2010 ‘budget teams’ initiative, Manor changed its name to Virgin, then to Marussia and finally back to Manor; Caterham started life as Lotus; and the team finally known as HRT underwent three identity changes in as many years – from Campos to Hispania Racing to HRT…
Before the turn of the millennium team name changes were comparatively rare. Yet no fewer than 15 applications have been filed over the past 10 years alone, with the main rush occurring between 2009-14. If this trend is an indication, it’s unlikely to slow any time soon.
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What lies behind the phenomenon? Brabham, Cooper, Ferrari, Jordan, McLaren, Tyrrell, Toleman, Williams, and others were, of course, named after their founders. Some were named for their significant others: Lotus is said to be team founder Colin Chapman’s pet name for the lady of his affections, while the ‘C’ in Sauber’s model type honoured Peter’s wife Christina.
Today’s F1 team names are often little more than corporate labels, liable to change whenever outfits swap owners. Hence team names such as Mercedes, Red Bull, Renault, Toro Rosso, and, indeed Alfa Romeo Racing, which may well mutate into Islero or Longbow (or Fiat?) should the Italians pull the plug in 2020.
Equally, Racing Point may well be dropped in future were some or other commercial interest to gain the upper hand. Indeed, would Haas F1 Team be around under that name had Gene selected a different name for his first machine tools?
None of this is, though, new to F1. For example, in the early sixties – and thus over a half century ago – British Racing Partnership, partially owned by Stirling Moss’s father Alfred, was renamed Yeoman Credit Racing after receiving £40,000 from the finance house to purchase cars and kit plus £20,000 per year to operate the team – in exchange for rebranding as Yeoman. Compare that to the estimated cost of Sauber’s Alfa deal…
After a number of driver deaths the team changed hands and Yeoman withdrew, but the new owner procured backing from investment company United Dominion Trust in return for renaming the outfit UDT Laystall, Laystall being an engineering company owned by UDT. Irony of ironies: the team collapsed after the then-nascent Formula One Constructors Association withdrew its membership due to commercial affiliations…
While fans may rightly lament the passing of once-hallowed names into the history books, as the record shows this phenomenon is far from new, and likely to accelerate considerably as F1 becomes increasingly corporate. Equally, recycling of old names as the two Lotus team of a decade ago is arguably a cynical recycling of history, as would be attempts to revive Brabham, Lola, March or others.
Indeed, like it or not, of the two name changes approved last week by the F1 Commission, a strong case could be made that Force India’s switch to Racing Point is the more original, and the renaming of Sauber to Alfa Romeo merely a short-lived marketing ploy…
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