Red Bull to swap Renault for Infiniti
Formula One champions Red Bull have teamed up with Nissan's Infiniti brand in a deal reversing the recent exodus of Japanese manufacturers from the sport.
The two-year marketing agreement announced on Tuesday will see Infiniti's branding on the front, side and rear of the Red Bull car as well as the overalls of German world champion Sebastian Vettel and Australian Mark Webber.
Although no financial details were given, the deal is likely to cover at least the team's annual engine costs of around 8 million euros and probably much more, given their status as champions.
Infiniti senior vice-president Andy Palmer said it was the biggest sponsorship activity that Nissan Group had ever done while Red Bull principal Christian Horner hailed a "very important and strategic partnership".
"As manufacturers have been leaving in their droves over the last few years, for a Japanese manufacturer to be coming back in is I think great news," Horner told Reuters.
"Maybe it will encourage more to follow...I think their (Infiniti's) approach is the right one in that they've not come and said they want to own and run a team. They have decided to partner a team."
Malaysian-owned Lotus Group have done something similar with former champions Renault, who are no longer owned by Renault, while Virgin have secured significant backing from Russian sportscar maker Marussia.
Palmer said Infiniti would work with Renault, who own 43.4 per cent of Nissan while Nissan own 15 per cent of the French company, on future F1 technical collaboration in areas such as Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems and battery technology.
Red Bull's engines will retain the Renault name on them rather than being 'rebadged' however.
"We haven't come back in a very traditional way, we've not gone and bought a team," Palmer said of the first F1 involvement by a Japanese automotive brand since the departure of Honda in 2008, Toyota in 2009 and tyre maker Bridgestone at the end of last year.
"First and foremost it's a marketing partnership, then hopefully we are confident it will lead to some technical collaboration, particularly in areas where Infiniti and the Nissan group have some strengths."
While made in Japan, Nissan's luxury brand has targeted the US market primarily but is now determined to win market share elsewhere - largely in places where Formula One has a high profile or is winning new audiences.
"We've decided that we are going to grow the brand significantly and we need to grow it in Western Europe... but also in places like China, Russia, South East Asia," said Palmer.
"The sponsorship of Formula One is going to get the name in front of an awful lot of people very quickly."
The deal is also a significant step for Red Bull Racing, a high-profile marketing vehicle for the Austrian energy drink company that has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the team to turn them into double title winners last year.
"The key thing about this relationship is that it goes much beyond a marketing benefit to Red Bull," said Horner.
"The area of weakness for us compared to our rivals has been the R+D (research and development), the technical depth of resource that a company like Infiniti and Nissan Group have available to them.
"For us, a partnership like this is really the missing piece in our jigsaw that enables us to hopefully maintain our competitiveness that we've worked hard to achieve."