Oil firms shift focus from F1 to football
their marketing deal with Formula One Management, although their Ferrari technical partnership continues.
The long and the short of this is that Renault and Red Bull each stand to lose funding from 2017, and while Renault could still reverse the decision by playing their ‘rst-ll’ and ‘recommended lubricant’ cards (oil and fuel supplied to every new car coming off Renault’s production lines globally, and through their service workshops) Red Bull do not have that leverage.
Thus team boss Christian Horner has gone oil-sponsorship hunting, and, by most accounts, found a possible partner in ExxonMobil, purveyor of money and lubricants to McLaren for two decades, but no longer the force they once were. During the US GP weekend, a party close to Red Bull and Mobil stressed that no deal had been inked, but neither side denied that talks were well advanced. If such a deal were to happen, it would leave McLaren with a hole to plug.
The word in Austin’s paddock was that McLaren had pitched BP/Castrol for a combined technical/commercial deal, but that Honda’s underperformance is an issue. It is also a possible reason for Mobil’s receptiveness to Red Bull, since, in the words of our source, “smoking Hondas do Mobil no favours…”
Whatever happens, the consequences of any switch for Renault are signicant regardless of whether the team retains Total as a partner in any capacity, for a change of oil supplier would also demand comprehensive validation and engine re-mapping programmes. The costs of these potentially run to millions in any currency – and, if Renault’s engines are run on two brands (Total and Mobil, say) such disruption will be considerable. Honda, too, would need to jump through the same hoops, and while the timeframe for such revalidation programmes is estimated to run to a month or so, assuming that no major glitches make themselves apparent, these disruptions could not come at a worse time, for engine suppliers are currently working intensively on upgrades for 2017, when engine development is freed up. Now consider the impact of revalidation on that.
Theoretically Red Bull could continue to run Total in their engines but brand their cars with whatever label – such arrangements are not unknown in F1, WEC and WRC – but Mobil is likely to insist on its own oils in the tanks (and Esso in the cells) if its logos are on a car.
Also affected by these developments are Toro Rosso, for Red Bull’s junior team have inked a deal with Renault for 2017, having used the French engines in 2014-15 before switching to old-specication Ferrari engines. Previously the Italian team had used Total products in their Renault engines – without commercial support, given the team’s Spanish CEPSA backing – and the understanding was that the deal would continue.
However, this is predicated upon Renault retaining Total’s technical support. That team, too, could try to ink a deal elsewhere using the ‘rst-ll’ carrot, but that would expose Red Bull to the full validation costs rather than amortising them over the two Red Bull-owned teams. Either way, the Renault source we spoke to was absolutely adamant that all costs would need to be carried by the customers. “We won’t,” he said.
All of which goes to show how kids kicking cans along the streets of Kinshasa slums as they dream of CAF glory can affect the activities of Formula 1 racing teams operating thousands of miles away in Viry-Châtillon, Milton Keynes and Woking.