In her book ‘I Just Made the Tea’ Formula 1 hospitality doyenne Di Spires – who spent 30 years on the ‘beat’ – described the take-over of Stewart Grand Prix by Jaguar ahead of the 2000 season as follows: “Ford owns Jaguar and the Ford management had decided to promote the Jaguar brand through Formula 1, so that was the name under which the team would be known as going forward.
“Jacques Nasser, the Ford chief executive, had been so impressed by the sea of red Ferrari hats at every grand prix that he was determined to match it with a ‘sea of green’, as the Jaguar brand was just as impressive as Ferrari.”
Nasser fervently believed that by buying Stewart Grand Prix – whose start up in 1997 was largely funded by Ford in the first place – and painting the cars British Racing Green, Jaguar would rank equal with Ferrari in the hearts and minds of fans. However, the project turned out to be arguably the most expensive five-year flop in F1 history, ranking high on the list of the sport’s most cynical projects.
The fact is that after numerous management upheavals – not to mention engineering disruption by bigwigs in Detroit – Jaguar Racing was ‘sold’ to Red Bull for a dollar (and employment guarantees) in 2004. Within five years (and a change of engines from Ford-owned Cosworths to Renaults) Red Bull scored the first of four double back-to-back world championship titles.
Prior to that Nasser ‘retired’ in 2001 at the age of 53 after various controversies. He was replaced by Williams Clay Ford Jnr – great-grandson of company founder Henry – who immediately demanded, ‘Who the hell is Edmund Irvine, who earns more than I do?’
He was, of course, referring to Eddie Irvine, who won four grands prix during his three-year tenure as Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari team mate, but subsequently scored just two podiums during a similar spell with Jaguar.
‘Jac the Knife’ had overlooked that for all their passion for the sport, F1 fans clearly value authenticity. Painting a formerly white car a metallic green hue and hiring an ex-Ferrari hotshot fooled nobody, certainly not beyond the first race, from which both cars retired on the sixth lap. Still, Nasser impressed the paddock by hosting a pre-race extended shindig at brother Jamie’s legendary Melbourne eatery Silvers.
Two new manufacturer names arrive on the F1 grid this year. But is Aston Martin’s rebranding (into British Racing Green, at that) of Racing Point (formerly Force India and Spyker and Midland, nee Jordan) authentic? Does the same go for Alpine’s renaming from Renault and hue change to French Racing Blue – complete with Tricolore – despite the ‘French’ team operating from a base in post-Brexit Britain?
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The same can be asked of existing teams. Can Alfa Romeo Racing (operated by Sauber) be likened to the team that won the 1950/51 world drivers championships with Giuseppe Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio respectively? Is the Mercedes – now owned in three equal parts by the eponymous car company, an Austrian dotcom entrepreneur and a British industrialist – a true descendent of the Silver Arrows raced by Fangio and Stirling Moss?
Does McLaren have an automotive heritage given its volume production activities commenced in 2011, three years after its last world drivers title and over a decade after its 1998 constructors championship? What about its great British rival, Williams, which has never had formal manufacturer shareholdings and whose control remained with its founding family for 40-plus years until it was sold last year to a US-based investment fund?
Which Formula 1 teams can lay claim to true authenticity in their image? Consider the backgrounds of each, in alphabetical order:
Alfa Romeo Racing
Dashes of red and white paint do not Alfa Romeos make. This marketing programme ranks below Jaguar on the cynicism scale given the brand does not own a slice of the team – Ford at least did that much. In its favour, Alfa Romeo has not claimed ‘seas of red/white’, but the bottom line is this is a paid livery deal.
That said, Sauber has a tradition of operating race programmes on behalf of manufacturers. It ran the Le Mans-winning Mercedes sports car programme in the eighties and BMW’s F1 team (the Bavarian company was part owner from 2006-09) – so at least the operation remains true to its roots. The fact, though, is that pretence has not stemmed Alfa Romeo’s plunging car sales. Tellingly, Jaguar experienced the same phenomenon.
Authenticity rating: 2/10
Drinks company Red Bull acquired Minardi – which revelled in underdog status under its previous owners – at end-2006 and rebranded it to Toro Rosso, then to its current name. The Italian team does not pretend to be other than sister team to Red Bull Racing, playing supporting roles where necessary and fostering talent when called upon to do so. There are, though, no direct links between car performance and energy drinks.
The team bears the livery of its owner’s clothing label, having previously raced under the Italian translation for Red Bull – and its war-paint leaves little doubt about corporate connections between Red Bull and AlphaTauri. In short, what little pretence there may be is linked to its business model of sourcing parts from main company Red Bull Technology rather than producing everything to its own designs.
Authenticity rating: 6/10
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Alpine F1 Team
True, Renault owns Alpine; equally true, Renault’s experimental 1976 A500 F1 car was built by Alpine in Dieppe. But that strand is about as far removed from this year’s car as is Britain from the EU: the current operation’s roots lie in the original Oxford-based Toleman team snapped up by Benetton, sold to Renault, morphed into pseudo-Lotus and re-acquired by Renault in 2016. The F1 power units are built in France.
Alpine’s corporate objective is “To focus on the development of all-electric sports cars in the future” yet it is persisting with the premier internal combustion category, raising questions about authenticity: Is the brand in F1 purely to sell unrelated technologies? The operation colloquially known as Team Enstone suffered multiple personality disorders since its founding during the eighties, and these shows no signs of abating.
Authenticity rating: 3/10
Aston Martin Racing
Obviously, Jaguar springs to mind, and there are some alarming similarities, but also salient differences: Both claimed the rights to green and both spoke of returning their respective brands to the F1 grid when they had little or no true grand prix pedigree to crow of – and both selected ex-Ferrari winners to spearhead their ‘returns’.
Crucially, AMR is a totally separate entity from the car company – a listed company – but arch car enthusiast Lawrence Stroll owns both operations. The team sources Mercedes F1 technologies and running gear, and uses the Mercedes wind tunnel, this, though, provides a tenuous thread of authenticity as the Aston Martin road car company has technical agreements with Mercedes in place for such hardware.
The question is whether buyers in this notoriously fickle niche market will get sucked in: when Aston Martin, under different management, bagged title sponsorship of Red Bull and stickered up the rear wings with Aston Martin logos they weren’t; in fact, the share price went south.
Authenticity rating: 4/10
Be in no doubt that Ferrari is as authentic as any historic team can be – save its red livery is tobacco pack-derived rather than that glorious Italian racing scarlet of old. Ferrari is (largely) based within the same complexes as its production operations, its processes are similar, technologies are interchanged as compatible, and Ferrari races to sell road cars and sells road cars to fund racing – as it did under Enzo Ferrari.
True, Ferrari is now a listed entity, but so intertwined are the two divisions that a single umbrella structure oversees both. Indeed, production workers display Shell logos on their uniforms and no other team integrates its commercial activities as closely as does Maranello. Ferrari has always been a special case, and authenticity plays a major role in that distinction.
Authenticity rating: 9/10
Haas F1 Team
Haas exists to sell machine tools on behalf of owner Gene Haas –its corporate colours are machine tool grey. It operates to the most basic permissible business model: Buy in whatever technology is permitted and out-source the rest – Ferrari will be its primary contractor from 2022 – and spread the brand name globally. There are no pretences.
Is five-year old Haas F1 Team, though, an authentic constructor competing in a sport aimed at fully-fledged constructors regardless of regulatory nuances? Clearly not, nor is there a relationship between performance and products unless suppliers use Haas machinery. Nor do the race cars improve Haas products in any shape or form.
Authenticity rating: 4/10
The closest competitor to Ferrari in terms of heritage, track record and vehicle sales, yet a company with a markedly different business model in that it raced for 50 years before branching into road car production. McLaren does not manufacture engines, whether road or track, sourcing power units from outside suppliers. In a hat-tip to its heritage McLaren now races in papaya as did founder Bruce McLaren during the sixties.
Where once the road car and race companies were separate legal entities with different shareholder structures – albeit operating out of the same Woking campus – these have been integrated as part of a recent corporate restructure. Over the years McLaren suffered various identity crises and strayed far from its roots, with Spygate being the nadir; now though, the rebuilding of its legacy is ongoing.
Authenticity rating: 7/10
Mercedes AMG F1 Team
It carries a three-pointed star on its nose, but Lewis Hamilton’s championship charge is Mercedes in funding only – its (black) paint deviates markedly from the company’s hallowed silver motorsport heritage – with virtually nil technical input from Stuttgart. As above, team ownership is equally split three ways – so Mercedes at least has skin in the game – but where is the heritage the oldest car brand on the grid could call upon?
The F1 engine company is a separate entity with no cross-over shareholding, and its factory base has variously displayed BAR, Honda and Brawn signage, while the company registration is rooted in Jackie Stewart’s Tyrrells from the seventies. None of these factors have halted the team’s run of successes, but comparisons with Silver Arrows of yore – built and raced out of Stuttgart – are rather tedious.
Authenticity rating: 5/10
Red Bull Racing
The former Jaguar operation is going great guns, being the only team capable of regularly taking the fight to Mercedes and Ferrari over the past decade. The commercial model is as per AlphaTauri (above) save the main team enjoys priority and races under Red Bull’s corporate colours.
Both operations will move up a notch in the authenticity stakes from 2022 when Red Bull Powertrains supplies (ex-Honda) units to its teams, thereby turning Red Bull into a fully-fledged constructor. Its status as oldest (and most consistently visible) team within the Red Bull stable means its rates higher than its sister.
Authenticity rating: 8/10
The third-oldest team on the grid exists for one reason only – go racing in its own name, for its own account. Crucially, it has never strayed from that ideal – even when BMW (and others) came knocking – and as such Williams is absolutely authentic, arguably on par with Ferrari. The team’s business model has not varied since its founding in 1977, being based on full constructor lines, with power units out-sourced.
In seasons past Williams and WYSIWYG were synonymous: What you saw is what you got, which is the ultimate expression of authenticity. Whether new owners Dorilton Capital maintain that tradition is open to question and too early to judge despite initial assurances – already gearboxes will be outsourced – but for now the omens seem good and one hopes they stay that way. After all, why buy authenticity only to scrap it?
Authenticity rating: 9/10
Why authenticity is essential
Authenticity is the degree to which a team’s values and its heritage are consistently maintained despite the enormous commercial, technical, sporting and political pressures all F1 teams are subject to, with the most authentic surviving to fight another day rather than expediently changing direction in the face of the slightest obstacle.
Gaining authenticity is not the work of a moment but it can be destroyed in a split-second. Thus, it is no surprise that F1’s three oldest teams are our top scorers. Red Bull are next up despite having significantly younger roots than the likes of Alpine, Mercedes and Sauber. Authenticity is as much about maintaining heritage as it is about a winning attitude – and hence only on the strongest have rated highly.