26 February 2010

BMW Sauber F1, Petronas, Mercedes

BMW Sauber

On the website for the BMW Sauber F1 Team, the following words appear: "After four years with the BMW Sauber F1 Team, BMW is turning its hand to other motorsport projects from 2010, while the Sauber Team aims to follow on from the success shared during this period." (Ref: BMW Sauber F1 Team website, accessed 26th February 2010) A link on the site brings visitors to the new BMW Motorsport website, whereas Team Sauber's website will soon be accessible.

On 1st February 2010, Paul Tan, automobile scene blogger, wrote a piece about a sponsorless BMW Sauber C29 being launched. The car does not sport any sponsor logos as yet, but may soon be decorated by logos of the drivers' personal sponsors. (Ref: paultan.org, 1st February 2010. Sponsorless BMW Sauber C29 launched.) It was noted that BMW had exited the sport, but red tape and lack of time necessitated the name "BMW Sauber" to be retained for this season's race. It was uncertain whether the name would be used in the next season. The C29 is powered by a Ferrari engine. (Ref: ibid.) In short, Team Sauber has ceased its partnership with BMW and lost its sponsor, Petronas. (Ref: Bleacher Report, 4th February 2010. Formula One 2010: A Winter Full of Change and Intrigue.)


Sauber is described as a "Swiss Formula One constructor ... founded in the 1970s by Peter Sauber, who progressed through hillclimbing and the World Sportscar Championship to reach Formula One in 1993." (Ref: Wikipedia, entry on Sauber. Accessed: 26th February 2010.) On 24th February 2010, it was speculated that Sauber's absence from this season's Formula One list of contenders meant that Stefan GP, a Serbian Formula One team, was joining the fray. (Source: crash.net, 24th February 2010. Mystery surrounds Sauber's absence from entry.) On the same day, it was reported that Sauber had appointed James Key as its new technical director. Mr Key was a designer at Lotus for two years before launching an illustrious career at Jordan, rising leaps and bounds through various management changes. (Source: Pit Pass, 24th February 2010. A Key Move At Sauber.) A report two days later stated that the BMW Sauber F1 Team will be training 18 year old Esteban Gutierrez as a race driver. Peter Sauber was quoted saying, "We view this link-up as a kind of sponsorship arrangement." By taking the young Gutierrez under its wing, Sauber would be giving his an opportunity to learn about the industry, while at the same time potentially having a winning driver at its disposal. (Source: Pit Pass, 26th February 2010. Sauber to support Gutierrez.)

Petronas and Mercedes

On 21st December 2009, Reuters reported that Petronas would sponsor the Mercedes Formula One team next season. (Ref: Reuters, 21st December 2009. Motor racing-Petronas to sponsor Mercedes F1 team.) The report showed that Mercedes was enthusiastic about Petronas' sponsorship.

"The new title partnership also paves the way for future collaborations between the two companies," Mercedes added in a statement.

It said Petronas would be able to "generate sustainable business growth, particularly in their downstream lubricants market, through the strategic partnership and business alliance with Mercedes-Benz."
(Source: ibid.)

However, not everyone was happy. The BMW Sauber Formula One team was left bereft when BMW exited the sport; the loss of sponsorship was surely a blow for them. Lotus F1 team boss, Tony Fernandes, also CEO of AirAsia, lamented Petronas's choice not to sponsor it as Lotus is owned by national car maker Proton. (Ref: ibid.)

Local blogger BigDogDotCom lauded the move as a financially rewarding development for Petronas and the nation. (Ref: The Thirteen Million Plus Ringgit Guy Rambles, 22nd December 2009. Petronas-Mercedes GP deal is beneficial for the nation.) From his blog:

The most important reason is that Petronas will immensely benefit from this Mercedes GP deal. From 2010, all Mercedes Benz cars in China, Turkey and UK markets assembled will be ‘first-filled’ and subsequently serviced using Petronas Synthium lubricants. For the first year alone, the business is expected to be in excess of RM 200 million. Within five years, the business will be expected to be in the neighbourhood of RM 1.5 billion, especially when Mercedes open other markets as well for exclusivity with Petronas lubricants. It will make Petronas lubricant products grow into markets previously enjoyed by Helix, Castrol, Agip and Duckhams.


This is the third success story of Petronas this year under the stewardship of Tan Sri Hassan Merican.
(Source: ibid.)

Could this latest move by Petronas have had anything to do with Tan Sri Hassan Merican's not being reappointed as head of Petronas? Is it indicative of some of the conflicts between Proton and Petronas? That question makes for highly entertaining reading, but is a matter for another article.


Alex Yoong, Malaysia's first and only Formula One driver, was reported as being unhappy with the decision.

“Petronas started F1 as a branding programme,” he is quoted as having said by the Malaysia Star newspaper, “but we have since moved into the business. We had a very good relationship with Sauber that exposed our brand and gave us the opportunity to go global with our lubricants.

“It was also timely when BMW took over Sauber, and that gave us an opportunity to partner with an original equipment manufacturer. The years we were together with BMW and Sauber, we benefited from the lubricant business. Next year, we have no team and the only reason for us to go back into Formula 1 is on a business deal, for the lubricant business.”
(Ref: crash.net, 22nd December 2009. Ex-F1 star expresses his 'shame' at Petronas/Mercedes tie-up.)

In a development that echoed Sauber's latest move, Alex Yoong was reported saying that Lotus would select three young drivers for its development programme, with a possibility that one of the drivers would ultimately become a Formula One driver. (Ref: AsiaOne Motoring, 26th February 2010. Daim may join Lotus team.)