Beer sponsor aims to ‘excite’ F1 and accelerate sport into the virtual age

Formula One - Monaco Grand Prix - Monaco

The global commercial partnership between Formula One and the drinks company Heineken, revealed exclusively by the Guardian last month, has been confirmed at the Canadian Grand Prix.

The deal is for five years and is set to conclude at the end of the 2020 season. The company declined to discuss how much it had paid although £100m has been reported. Heineken has made a point of stressing it will be bringing innovation to promote the sport, specifically in social media and expect the relationship to further increase the visibility and popularity of F1 in new markets round the world.

The partnership will begin in Canada this weekend, after which Heineken will be a title partner for the Italian Grand Prix and have a presence at all the remaining races (with the exception of Abu Dhabi) before increasing its presence in 2017. Next year the company will be a title partner for three races. It has also employed Sir Jackie Stewart and David Coulthard as brand ambassadors.

The senior director of Heineken’s global brand, Gianluca Di Tondo, said: “We want new consumers and Formula One wants new spectators and we believe we can work together to reach this goal. We believe we can reach out to 200 million people on top of the audience we already reach with our current platforms.”

Although the company will have a presence at grands prix with fan areas, their focus will on social and digital media, which Di Tondo said they intended to “leverage massively”. For F1 the increased publicity will be a huge shot in the arm. Formula One does not have a major social media presence, which has attracted considerable criticism. The sport has also been suffering from falling viewing figures – especially where coverage has gone to pay-to-view TV. In the UK, F1 is set to be available only on Sky from 2019.

“We are going to push in that [social media] direction and showcase to F1 the benefits of moving in that direction,” Di Tondo said. “It is a world that keeps changing. Virtual reality is coming and we are already thinking about how the experience of F1 will look in virtual reality. We are going to F1 to show them new ideas, to excite them.”

The company will not have logos on cars or drivers but believes the sport has huge potential for better promotion. “F1 is loved by millions of people but I believe it is largely unexploited, I believe we can do with F1 things no one has done before,” Di Tondo said.

Bernie Ecclestone, who welcomed the new deal by saying: “When I have a beer, I have always been happy with a Heineken,” has also appreciated the benefit to the sport of bringing in new fans by allowing Heineken to use race footage in their material, something he has zealously guarded in the past, denying it even to race promoters.

Di Tondo said Formula One could be bigger than the Champions League. “We want to let the fan and the casual watcher understand that F1 is bigger than a race. F1 is not just the two hours of the race, it is the 72 hours that turns cities into playgrounds. It is such a rich world and there is so much more to discover about it and most people don’t know,” he said.

“We are aiming to replicate the success we had with the Champions League, there are synergies between the two platforms. We have learnt so much from that that we will bring to F1.”

The company has also backed Ecclestone’s anti-drink-driving campaign by putting 30% of its F1 programme into a “If you drive, never drink” promotion, which will be spearheaded by Stewart who said the

partnership was “the most significant thing to come into motorsport for a great many years” and that the campaign would “categorically save lives”.

Powered by article was written by Giles Richards in Montreal, for The Guardian on Thursday 9th June 2016 22.16 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010