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Red Bull signs "long term" sponsor and issues F1 quit threat on same day

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Red Bull signs "long term" sponsor and issues F1 quit threat on same day
Apr 9, 2015, 9:33 PM

Only in the uniquely chaotic, dysfunctional and political world of Formula 1 could a team announce a breakthrough "multi-year" deal with a Chinese...

Only in the uniquely chaotic, dysfunctional and political world of Formula 1 could a team announce a breakthrough "multi-year" deal with a Chinese sponsor and on the same day see its supreme leader issue a menacing threat that he may pull his team out of the sport.

Chinese sponsors have not exactly poured into F1 since the sport started racing in Shanghai in 2004, so the deal with China's leading consumer electronics brand Hisense is something of a ground-breaker for the four time world champion team. Hisense is already active in NASCAR, the Australian Open tennis tournament and the Schalke 04 football team in Germany's Bundesliga.

Yet the headlines today revolve around Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz's comments in the Austrian media, picking up on his F1 adviser Helmut Marko's threat, made after the Australian Grand Prix, that Red Bull Racing may quit F1 if things carry on as they are at present,

"We'll only stay in Formula One if we have a competitive team, and we need a competitive power unit for that," Mateschitz told the Austria Press Agency. "If we don't have one, we can race with the best car and the best drivers and still have no chance of competing for victory.

"The problem is, we can't control it," he added, at the same time ruling out the possibility that the Milton Keynes-based squad would not seek to develop its own engine.

"We are not a car manufacturer who could justify the investment," he said. "So we rely on Renault to close the gap to Ferrari and, above all, Mercedes."

So what does it all mean and is Mateschitz serious?

Clearly any threat must be taken seriously from a man in his unique position of being able to make unilateral decisions about the team's future. His investment in F1 has always been based on his passion for the sport, which is waning with the switch to hybrid turbo engines.

It certainly ranks up pressure on Renault, which is in the process of deciding itself what it should do next with its F1 investment. Interestingly, the French government has increased its stake in the French car maker, in a ploy which is connected with a forthcoming shareholder vote, but which nevertheless potentially complicates the picture given the uncompetitive nature of the performance at the moment. The current state of play is not a good advert for "Made in France" in automotive technology terms.

But it also ramps up pressure on the sport to do something to level the playing field, despite the surprise result in Malaysia where Mercedes was outperformed by Ferrari. That result, widely welcomed after what looked an ominously dominant showing by Mercedes in Melbourne, made it look as though F1 might be in for a competitive season after all.

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