March 14, 2013

Insults fly as McLaren debate hot up

Sergio Perez's McLaren is wheeled towards scrutineering ... but what will the ubiquitous Vodafone branding be replaced with in 2014? © Getty Images

In Formula One, everyone’s an expert. Lots of people actually are experts in all sorts of complicated technical concepts way beyond the understanding of the average human being, but even those of us stumbling around with normal-grade brains like to think we know it all.

Which is why there are few things more amusing than getting a group of F1 journos together and listening to them argue about what colour the sky is, whether the moon actually is made of cheese, and the likelihood of x driver winning y race.

Thursday in Melbourne is the Mercedes welcome lunch, wherein the F1 press corps is invited along to a beachfront restaurant for a casual press conference with food. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg took to the stage for a few questions about the 2013 season, the challenge of being team-mates, and all the usual, before talk turned to tattoos, practical jokes, and Roscoe.

The drivers were followed by Ross Brawn and Toto Wolff, who again answered a lot of the expected questions before relaxing and cracking a few jokes.

Once the formal Q&A finished, we were treated to a delicious meal, and Toto went from table to table, chatting to the assembled media in a chilled out fashion before moving on to the next group. It’s a great way to kick off the season, getting the difficult questions out of the way in a relaxed atmosphere before the focus switches to the action on track.

Seating at these events is a bit of a free for all, and I was lucky to wind up on a table with some of the most esteemed and experienced journalists in the paddock. In such an environment I feel it’s far better to keep my mouth shut and ears open – these guys have forgotten more about motorsport than I’m ever likely to know. Which is why it was so much fun to watch the egos battle it out over the question of McLaren’s 2014 title sponsor.

Half the table was convinced that Vodafone would be replaced with Telmex, pointing to Sergio Perez’s presence in the Woking team as proof that one telecommunications giant would be swapped for another. The other half thought that the 2014 title sponsor has already been on the car for the best part of a season – GlaxoSmithKline.

This was no gentleman’s disagreement, oh no. Press rooms are a hotbed of juvenility, with the average sense of humour not dissimilar to that of a 14-year-old. Why just disagree with someone when you can insult them at the same time? That’s not how it’s done around these parts – you dish it out and take it in equal measure, and you do both with a cheeky grin.

And that’s just the way I like it.

I’m of the opinion that GSK will end up sponsoring McLaren next year, although I wouldn’t be so rash as to stake money on a hunch. But McLaren and GSK have been doing some frankly astonishing work together since we first saw Lucozade branding on the car, and I think that title sponsorship would take an already mutually beneficial relationship and strengthen it even further.

Without going into embargoed detail about the B2B projects McLaren and GSK have been working on for the past year, all I can do is hope you’ll believe me when I tell you they’ve got a lot of impressive stuff happening. And the work they’re doing involves the sort of time investment from both sides that just wouldn’t make sense without a long-term relationship in the offing.

Which isn’t to say that there’s not a good argument for Telmex as title sponsors. But when I interviewed Carlos Slim Domint in Barcelona last year (admittedly months before anyone thought Checo would be racing for McLaren this season) he was pretty adamant that Telmex weren’t looking to become title sponsors. Team owners, maybe. But that was in the Sauber days, and McLaren aren’t up for sale.


Posted by Kate Walker on 15/03/2013

@JCA: Either Mercedes or one of their sponsors footed the bill for the meal - I'm not sure. But what makes you think it was expensive? Delicious doesn't have to mean costly.

And the wait staff were friendly, courteous, and professional. Any judging/hating happened in private.

@Adelaide F1 Fan: Thanks for the tips! The food around here is fantastic. Part of the problem for me is being spoiled for choice - where do you even start?

Posted by flavio parigi on 15/03/2013

Someone still questioning why Perez go to McLaren?
Driver skill or big wallet?

Posted by d sky on 14/03/2013

Maybe Honda will be sponsors with engine supply

Posted by MycLaren on 14/03/2013

I know it since Sergio signs, he-he! Never liked vodafone... Welcome TelMex!

Posted by Adelaide F1 Fan on 14/03/2013

Hey Kate, good article. In reference to JCA don't worry I am from Australia and understand your stance taken from the previous article about the price of everything being exorbitant. With supply and demand these things happen, and really the prices aren't too bad when you consider it not custom for waiters to recieve a tip personally. You should check out the strip of foodie places along Sydney Road Brunswick just 5km one road north of the CBD, about as cheap, trendy and multicultral you can get. Nice $10 pizzas, $10 curries and the best kebab the Greek Melbournites have to offer, anytime. Plus there are still the $3.95 6 inch subs from subway, or a couple of the $2 double bacon cheesburgers from maccas if you are going broke. It's a worldwide event and these are the gripes one has to deal with different cultures, customs and Australians liking to hound anyone outspoken. Keep up the good work and who knows, one day you may be the next Maurice Hamilton.

Posted by David Cameron on 14/03/2013

Poor old Vodafone must be feeling the pinch now the government have been embarrassed into asking it to actually bother to pretend to pay some tax in the UK. It is one of the worst offenders and McLaren are better off distancing themselves from an organisation like that.

It's getting harder to find sponsors so McLaren need a good season. Let's hope the GSK punt turns out to be true.

Posted by JCA on 14/03/2013

2 questions, who paid for the enormously expensive food, and where any of the waiters snooty about the cost of F1 to the Victorian tax payers?

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'. Kate Walker