Why does Aston Martin keep getting linked with Formula 1?
Over the British GP weekend there were several stories linking Aston Martin with Red Bull Racing and with Mercedes AMG hybrid F1 engines.
Over the British GP weekend there were several stories linking Aston Martin with Red Bull Racing and with Mercedes AMG hybrid F1 engines. Three jigsaw pieces, but ones which may not even be in the same jigsaw.
There is a tie up between Red Bull and Aston Martin, a production super car is certainly on the stocks and that will be powered by a Mercedes engine. Former Red Bull F1 design guru Adrian Newey is involved in that as part of his new wider remit on the technology side.
But the leap from there to Mercedes supplying Red Bull with its F1 engines, badging them as Aston Martin and racing in F1 is quite hard to figure. Mercedes want Red Bull and other strong competitors to stay in F1, invest in the competition and in the promotion of it. That's all part of what's 'good for the sport'. But does that extend to supplying one of their most potent rivals with an engine? And would Red Bull accept being a customer of the benchmark teams, knowing that history shows customer engined teams never win world championships?
But what alternatives does Red Bull have? The relationship with Renault is at rock bottom, albeit with another year left on the contract. Renault is examining the possibility of buying Lotus F1 team, which saw off a winding up order yesterday in court from creditors.
There isn't too much wrong with Ferrari's engine this year, but look where they were 12 months ago. Red Bull and Renault won three races in 2014, while Ferrari barely scraped a podium. What is to say that Renault will not make the same improvement from 2015 to 2016 that Ferrari made last year?
Mercedes have made it clear many times that F1 is a powerful tool for them and there is no way they would allow their technology to be rebadged as someone else's; they don't need to do it and it makes no sense.
The question then is, should Mercedes have a sudden change of heart and decide to supply Red Bull with engines in 2017, how would the Aston Martin branding come in?
Currently the boss of Aston Martin is Andy Palmer, whose name some fans may remember from the arrival of Infiniti as a sponsor of Red Bull; Palmer was behind that deal in his former capacity as boss of Infiniti. The deal is still in place today. Infiniti is Red Bull's title sponsor in a deal worth around £40 million a year, which expires for 2017. Perhaps Palmer is thinking of rolling out the same model again with Aston replacing Infiniti.
In the Infiniti scenario, a luxury car brand came into F1 with massive branding exposure on the Red Bull car, but the engines remained badged as Renault. That is how the cars appear today in F1.
At least in that case, Infiniti and Renault are owned by the same group. Mercedes and Aston Martin have a technical collaboration and engine supply deal, but the ownership is different. Aston Martin is the only super car maker of its size and type which is not owned by a larger group. It's 2013 turnover was just over £500m, a quarter of Ferrari's - but it has embarked on a massive investment programme as it aims to double production to around 7,000 cars a year -a similar level to Ferrari. This expansion programme promoted ratings agency Standard and Poor to downgrade Aston's rating, due to "continued substantial negative free operating cash flow" for the coming few years.
This story seems like a lot of wishful thinking by a few people in a situation where clearly there is room for speculation; Red Bull needs some movement to take place to get themselves out of a real mess, Mercedes aren't going to give them engines in any straight forward kind of way.I do not think you'll see Mercedes hybrid engines in the back of a Red Bull F1 car any time soon and if you were Aston Martin and your job was to promote your brand then you could tot up the media value of the exposure and coverage given to the brand by this week of stories and go away thinking that you'd done rather well at putting the Aston Martin name out there at no cost to yourselves and gained such useful publicity.
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