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 signicant 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-specication 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.

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