Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Aston Martin in F1 rumours and my opinion on it

Last weekend it was reported Aston Martin is in talks with Red Bull Racing for sponsoring the team Mercedes power units. Meanwhile, today it was reported Aston Martin has been in talks with the current Mercedes customer teams (Williams, Lotus, Force India) for a similar arrangement.

Red Bull currently has a similar contract with Infiniti, a brand of the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Infiniti is the title sponsor of the team and sponsors the team's Renault power units. But Red Bull haven't been happy with the performance of Renault. Previously there was the rumour of the Audi partnership or even buyout of the team but that obviously isn't happening. Red Bull would probably be willing to switch to Mercedes, the best power unit in the series. The Aston Martin deal could enable that. Aston would replace Infiniti as the title sponsor and sponsor the Mercedes power units to the team. Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, owns five percent of Aston Martin and produces engines for their models, so that could be a way to enter the brand into F1. Besides, Red Bull Technologies has a joint road car project with Aston Martin.

But would it make sense for a World Champion team Red Bull to become a power unit customer for the current World Champions Mercedes? Their current partner Renault is possibly going to buy a team, e.g. Toro Rosso or Lotus. Being a Renault customer might not be any better option. At least the Mercedes power unit is the best one they can get, even if the works Mercedes team had some advantage.

But, why would Mercedes supply power units to a team that could be a serious contender for their works team? Maybe they would just welcome a new customer as it would bring them money. And maybe a rival team succeeding wouldn't be so bad if they were sponsored by a car brand partly owned by the same group. And the works team would anyway have some advantage over customer teams.

Then, what about Aston's other options? Force India seem least likely, they are an eternal midfield team whereas Williams and Lotus are former World Champions. Lotus is financially distressed so I wouldn't see it as such an attractive option. Also there are rumours of Renault buying the team again, so it wouldn't be an option for Aston Martin.

The current third in the constructors' championship, Williams, might be an attractive option for Aston Martin. They are a team in the front of the grid but wouldn't be a similar threat to the works Mercedes team as Red Bull would be. And maybe this would be a good deal for Williams. They don't have the financial resources of Mercedes, Ferrari, or Red Bull. Free or discounted engines for Aston sponsorship would help them to fight against financially stronger teams in the front of the grid.

But, Red Bull and Williams are former World Champion teams and surely want to be title contenders also in the future. Maybe right now, the Mercedes power unit is what seems like the best option. But being a customer puts them into disadvantage compared to the Mercedes works team. The works team can better design the car around the power unit, get updates first, and in general could get preferential treatment. Being a customer isn't what a title contender team wants unless there are no competitive alternatives. Personally, as a Williams fan, I would like them to enter into a works agreement with a car manufacturer if there were one entering the series. Of course, new manufacturers don't seem very likely right now so Mercedes power units are the best option available. So, maybe that might drive also Red Bull switching to Mercedes power units now, especially if they got the Aston Martin sponsorship. There was even the rumour of Red Bull going to Ferrari power units, and given the poor record of Ferrari customer teams, being a Mercedes customer may not be the worst option of all. But being Mercedes customers can't be the ideal option in long term if these teams want to win titles.

As for Aston's F1 involvement, it feels somewhat unfortunate that such a traditional car manufacturer would come only as a sponsor. A bit like the Group Lotus as the title sponsor of the Lotus F1 Team. I would rather see them expanding their involvement in sports cars where they are really manufacturers. An LMP1 project might be too expensive for them but maybe they could be one of the engine suppliers for IMSA prototypes like another British luxury car brand Bentley is rumoured to be planning. But that's just how I would like it to be. In F1, they would probably get more exposure for their brand, even if they weren't showcasing their technology.

Do I expect this to happen? We'll see. I can see why this could make sense but this came quite surprisingly so I'm not convinced yet. The Red Bull-Audi rumour seemed just as sensible and still it doesn't seem to be happening.

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