OPINION: This F1 launch season, the deals are the story – not the cars

OPINION: This F1 launch season, the deals are the story – not the cars

Insights & Analysis

OPINION: This F1 launch season, the deals are the story – not the cars

By

Sorry folks, but most car launches that we get – certainly this early in the year – are likely to be a major letdown. The mock-up released by Formula 1 last year that was edited to carry each team’s livery is pretty much what you’re going to recognize during the unveilings at the moment, because cars are just not finished yet.

The RB18 was a case in point, when what was essentially the F1 demonstration model was “revealed” in an adapted Red Bull livery, but the car was nothing like what is expected to hit the track in Barcelona or Bahrain.

But that’s OK, because there were much more important things to focus on than the lack of a ‘real’ car being unveiled today.

I’ll start at the end, with the part of the Red Bull launch that was a big deal – literally – with Oracle being named title partner.

Even in isolation, that’s exciting. A big American company putting its name on an F1 team shows just how much the sport is continuing to make strides in the U.S., and in a reciprocal way as the sport provides a global platform for organizations to promote themselves on.

But the figures that were initially reported by the Associated Press – and that I’ve since been able to confirm – take the announcement to a whole other level.

Half a billion dollars.

HALF A BILLION.

Granted, that’s spread over five years, but when the budget cap currently sits at $145m (certain additional spend outstanding), $100m a year is a hell of a figure.

That’s not to belittle existing lucrative deals such as the Petronas partnership with Mercedes, or many of the Ferrari collaborations, but it highlights the interest in F1 from the U.S. as well as Red Bull’s impressive ability to capitalize in the wake of Honda’s departure.

The initial reaction from many fans when watching the Red Bull livestream will have been “get on with it” as it spoke about a new sponsorship deal before revealing a car that wasn’t really worth waiting for, but it turns out the team was putting the headline first. And it was a smart move, as another team had threatened to overshadow Red Bull with an announcement of its own.

I started today expecting to write something – anything – about the RB18, but by lunchtime I was thinking about the message being sent out by Lando Norris’ new McLaren contract. Norris had signed an extension through to the end of 2023 only last May, but is now being tied down through 2025 with a new deal.

For Norris, the future’s orange (sorry, papaya) – and he wouldn’t have it any other way. Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images

Something there didn’t quite tally at first, from both sides. Norris’ stock could barely be higher, but McLaren already had him committed for at least two more years, and on less money. And while the team is building a new wind tunnel in the hope of being world championship caliber again in the near future, there is no pecking order yet established in the new era to give Norris certainty of the positions he will be racing for.

But digging a little deeper during a press call with Norris and Andreas Seidl, it became clear other teams had been sniffing around even after the extension was announced last year. That move was expected to ward off any potential suitors, but his performances as the season progressed meant it wasn’t the deterrent it could have been, and Norris knew that increased his value.

There’s a refreshing honesty when Norris speaks, because he was willing to answer a question about the fact he must be earning more from the contract, but he also talked about results not being the only things that matter when it comes to trying to get an F1 seat.

“It will definitely help me a little bit more _ with all contracts (money) is something that comes into it, and (it’s) something that if you do have a good season then naturally will rise a little bit,” he said. “Especially if there’s opportunities from other teams, or something that could have the opportunity to arise in the future. That’s something that always helps with the money side of it.

“I know everyone says it, but honestly that’s not the biggest thing for me. I’ve always said my enjoyment and happiness comes above all, and that’s still for me the most important thing. So that, for me, is the deciding factor in all of this.

“Of course I said at the time I wouldn’t have moved to Monaco and so on, but things change, and with that still my happiness and still my enjoyment is above everything. That’s why I want to stay here.

“I’m sure I could have had the opportunity to go elsewhere in the future, but for the next four years and for a good part of my life I want to stay here and enjoy the time I’m with McLaren, and the people that brought me into the sport, and so on. I’m just very happy to be with who I am, and that’s more important than anything else.”

For McLaren, too, the latest deal means it didn’t need to bank on an improved car to try and entice Norris to stay, and simply had to work out if his value to the team would endure. At the age of 22, that seems to be a pretty simple equation, especially when the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull were already showing an interest in a future move.

So, Red Bull gets the majority of its annual budget covered by one title partnership; Norris gets paid more to drive for a team he already loves for more years than he’s been in F1 so far; and McLaren secures one of the highest-rated drivers on the grid for a spell long enough to give it a chance of fighting for titles.

Forget the cars that are being unveiled this week. Those are moves that are likely to have a far bigger long-term impact on the respective teams than anything being launched for 2022.

MX-5 Cup | Round 10 – Road America

More RACER