Formula 1 made a triumphant return last weekend with a spectacular first race of the season in Spielberg for the Austrian Grand Prix. What was unknown prior to the weekend was how F1 would position its sponsors throughout the race weekend to maximise visibility with television and digital audiences, and to minimise the loss of the physical presence of corporate guests and fans. Here are some of our key sponsorship take-outs from the opening weekend of the season.
F1 pivots to showcase sponsors
With the sport returning to racing behind closed doors, we asked how F1 would deal with the reduced visibility for its partners with no guests or fans permitted at the opening races. The answer was in the form of grandstand covers for DHL and Heineken – whose grandstand under normal circumstances would have been reserved solely for the passionate Dutch Max Verstappen fans. Whether this was offered as part of an updated package to increase visibility or the partners paid more for these is unknown, but it certainly helped to bring some additional colour to the otherwise unoccupied grandstands. The new podium procedure also brought new challenges – held on the start/finish straight immediately after the race – however F1 had installed prominent branding for Rolex to feature behind the drivers in post-session interviews and those all-important champagne celebrations.
Aramco makes its long-awaited debut
After a four-month wait, Saudi Aramco made its official debut as F1’s sixth Global Partner, joining the likes of DHL, Emirates, Heineken, Pirelli and Rolex. This marked the first global sponsorship platform for the integrated and chemicals company, which cited the sport’s dynamic appeal and international following of 500 million fans when the partnership was announced. Aramco enjoyed prominent trackside and pitlane branding at the Austrian Grand Prix, as well as regular screen time for its logo alongside live graphics throughout the race.
McLaren’s customised solution
Keeping sponsors engaged is not just an issue for the sport as a whole, but also the individual teams on the grid. McLaren was the first to announce a digital offering for its partners; its Slipstream service provided exclusive content for its partners, from garage tours to interviews with the drivers and senior members of the team, throughout the weekend. Hosted on Microsoft Teams, clients would enjoy bespoke pre- and post-event coverage – and there was certainly a lot to celebrate with Lando Norris’s last-gasp snatch of a podium finish. The team admitted it was unable to test its new service prior to the weekend (understandably due to the dynamic nature of F1), but it will be interesting to see how other teams may follow their lead, or if it could have a more public roll-out to the fans.
What lessons might be learned before the next race?
With back-to-back races at the same track, F1 finds itself in a unique position to be able to react immediately to what it has learned. Trackside branding may move or change, either pre-agreed to offer prominence to different partners or because more advantageous points around the track have been identified to offer increased visibility. Face masks are now mandatory in most areas within the circuit, and it was rare to see anyone not wearing a covering during the weekend. While teams like Ferrari, Williams, McLaren and Red Bull had masks that conformed with their brand identity, could there be an opportunity to offer sponsors prime position on this blank canvas at future events? Could face mask real estate become the new sponsored caps?
F1 certainly got a lot of things right at the Austrian Grand Prix – but we hope this is just the tip of the iceberg. With many sports taking tentative steps towards normality, there still remains the opportunity for a series to be world-leading in its offering for sponsors and fans while they are unable to attend an event in person. On the basis of the strength of its partners and suppliers, this could be F1’s time to shine.