There was a party in Montreal on Sunday night, and quite a party it was too. Not held in honour of Lewis Hamilton’s 5th win in Canada, nor to celebrate a first podium of the season for Williams and Valteri Bottas. Not even to acknowledge Sebastian Vettel’s wildlife welfare moment at the first turn when he managed to avoid, what quite frankly were, the bravest pair of Seagulls ever seen at a racetrack. Seriously, those bad boys didn’t even flutter a feather as the Ferrari hurtled towards them, front brakes locking at 100mph.
No, the party, which seemed to be attended by about three quarters of the F1® Paddock, including many of the drivers, was to celebrate Formula 1’s latest big name sponsorship. A sponsorship deal that was announced in the freezing cold of the F1 Paddock Club™ on Thursday lunchtime.
Bernie Ecclestone was there to start the press conference, joking that if anyone thought they were coming along to hear him announce he was retiring, they were wrong. With a grin on his face he followed that line up by suggesting that any retirement announcement could be saved for the funeral parlour.
Bernie then welcomed Heineken to the stage. The brewing company whose founder was friends with Sir Jackie Stewart as they partied back in the day, had now stopped ‘flirting with Formula 1®’ as they put it, and dived head first into the sport for a serious full time relationship, which begins in earnest in Monza and will run for many years to come.
So what does it mean for the sport though? Why should we care about this deal and what’s in it for the fans, other than plentiful supplies of the company’s product at the majority of the races? Because I’m sure you’ll have read about this deal, and I get the feeling that more column inches have been dedicated to it than any other recent sponsorship announcement.
Here’s what the Press Release says….
“Heineken® will create fully integrated global F1® ‘Open your World’ manifesto and “If You Drive, Never Drink” campaigns. Activations will include F1® circuit branding, TV commercials, digital activations, live fan experiences and events, dedicated PR initiatives, and packaging/point-of-sale activations.”
Or to put it another way, Heineken are going to invest time, effort and money in improving the fans experience of Formula 1®. Not just for those of us that have followed the sport for years, but for new fans as well. The quote I really liked came from Gianluca di Tondo, Heineken’s Senior Global Director who said that they “Will work in partnership to build even greatest consumer interest in the global phenomenon that is F1®.” So here boys and girls is a sponsor that wants to start to promote the sport. To extend its reach, head into new areas and spread the Grand Prix Gospel! And they’ve got the money to do it too, 10% of their global media budget will go into Formula 1®.
Sponsors come into F1® all the time, but not in a long time has one arrived with such a fanfare and the stated intent to promote the sport. They’re doing it to sell more bottles of beer of course and I haven’t got a problem with that. But the sport needs promotion, it needs a driving force if you pardon the pun, to make sure that more people get what we already know, that F1® is bloody brilliant and well worth experiencing. What do we have at the moment?
Well, Red Bull run a lot of demo runs around the world. Taking their car to the streets, or even the slopes earlier this year. Which is great, but expensive and other teams just don’t have the marketing spend to match them. Bernie has long argued that it’s up to others to promote the sport, although he did admit this week that Heineken had woken him up to the age of social media and how it can help raise awareness of Formula 1®. I’m not expecting him to take to Twitter in the near future, but why not. I’d be up for #AskBernie once in a while.
And what a time to start to really promote F1®, the two horse race is fast turning into a three team fight at the top of the Championship. Mercedes might have won the last two races but Ferrari had an excellent Canada until their race strategy once again let them down and Red Bull are on an upward curve too. Meanwhile, young drivers are thrilling us all, just how good was Max Verstappen as he defended brilliantly against Nico Rosberg in Montreal?
Three races to go until Silverstone and who knows what will happen between now and July 10th? Talking of which, if you haven’t checked out Silverstone’s ‘text to win competition’ for this year’s British Grand Prix, do have a look here. If you’re after a money can’t buy experience for next month’s race, there’s three different ones to be won!
And by the time you come back to Silverstone for the 2017 Grand Prix, stand by for a host of experiences for the fans. Heineken mean business. They have a message to get across and they want to use F1® to help them do it. Sir Jackie noted, that “he hadn’t seen a Formula One™ press conference attended by so many people, on a very cold day.” And he was right, it was packed in there and it wasn’t the promise of free beer, for once it was way too cold, even for a free one.