F1 Business Diary 2014: the Monaco Grand Prix

The Monaco Grand Prix remains probably the only place where Justin Bieber taking a 'selfie' with Bernie Ecclestone barely raises an eyebrow. SportsPro takes a team-by-team look at the marketing efforts around Formula One's most famous race.

All the clichés have at this point been exhausted for another year, but the Monaco Grand Prix remains probably the only place where Justin Bieber taking a ‘selfie’ with Bernie Ecclestone barely raises an eyebrow.

On boats, rooftop terraces or in the cramped paddock on the quayside, the most famous Grand Prix of them all attracted the usual mix of celebrities, VIP guests, Eurotrash, plus a host of hangers-on and support staff. The race itself was the main event, of course, but the sideshows were, as ever, the myriad sponsorship activations (read parties, or, for the more sophisticated brands, functions) which took place throughout the weekend. Here’s a team-by-team round-up from a busy weekend of gear-changing and glad-handing.

Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso

Red Bull’s Energy Station has long since been the most impressive of the team bases at European Grands Prix, but for the past few years in Monaco it has been floated into position in the harbour and expanded to include a swimming pool. After being dismantled in Barcelona two weeks ago, four trailers transported it to Monaco where it was rebuilt on a barge. The decking in front of the team offices has become one of the social hubs of the Monaco weekend, with a resident DJ and, this year, Scottish trials cyclist Danny MacAskill performing tricks. Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick was amongst the team’s guests.


On a dramatic weekend for the sport’s dominant team – another one-two, brouhaha between its battling drivers and the announcement that title sponsor Petronas has extended its deal for a multi-year period – Mercedes’ watch sponsor IWC Schaffhausen invited actor Sir Patrick Stewart, currently promoting the new X-Men movie, to the race. On Friday, a traditional rest day in Monaco, team mechanics and engineers donned their new Assos gear – last month Mercedes agreed a supply deal with the Swiss cycling company – for a training ride into the mountains above the principality.


A fairly low-key weekend for Ferrari’s sponsors at first glance, although watch company Hublot had a neat trick up its sleeve, by repainting Monaco’s helipad – a key way in and out for VIPs over race weekend – in the shape of the H from its logo. Elsewhere, the team, having finally admitted that it will not be snaring Adrian Newey away from Red Bull Racing, spent most of the weekend lavishing praise upon Fernando Alonso (above), amidst whispers the Spaniard may be looking elsewhere for a drive in the not-too-distant future. Intriguingly, on Monday after the race it was announced that Alonso will wave the starting flag at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours. There has been speculation for some months that Ferrari is considering building its own LMP1 car to challenge the likes of Audi, Toyota and Porsche at Le Mans and in the World Endurance Championship. Alonso’s role next month will only heighten the intrigue.


As team principal and owner Gerard Lopez moved to calm speculation that Pastor Maldonado’s drive is under threat, following comments made by Venezuela’s new minister of sport that the country would no longer invest in motorsport – Maldonado’s drive is linked to state oil company’s PDVSA’s sponsorship of the team – other Lotus sponsors took the initiative in Monte Carlo. Chief amongst them was energy drink Burn, who invited British pop star Pixie Lott along. Oil firm Total, meanwhile, revamped Romain Grosjean’s helmet design so it featured the Twitter handles of hundreds of the Frenchman’s fans.


The British team still finds itself without a title sponsor – it has thus far been unable to sell the position held up until the end of last year by Vodafone – so, from a marketing point of view at least, the highlight of the McLaren weekend was the traditional VIP party staged by longstanding watch partner Tag Heuer on Saturday evening. Held aboard a yacht decked out in the green and red of the Swiss watchmaker, the party was hosted by Tag chief executive Stéphane Linder, who posed for the obligatory, only slightly-awkward watch-laden photographs with baby-faced McLaren driver Kevin Magnussen.

Force India

It was all aboard team owner Vijay Mallya’s Indian Empress yacht on Thursday night for the Indian’s annual bash. The 95-metre yacht was one of the dominant vessels in Port Hercule and Prince Albert, Bernie Ecclestone and several other team principals turned up for a mooch around and a chat with Mallya, who, despite his well-publicised troubles at home, retains an enthusiasm for Formula One and oversees a team which has made an excellent start to the season. Indian designer Neeta Lulla hosted a fashion show at a party which has become something of a Monaco Grand Prix weekend tradition.


Williams’ new title sponsor Martini was always bound to make a splash at Monaco, its first opportunity to activate its multi-million dollar deal at the most glamorous event on the calendar. The brand hosted a large group of guests throughout the weekend, including model Amber LeBon, but the star of the show was undoubtedly the Martini Racing-branded Vector offshore powerboat, which tore round the harbour giving VIPs rides throughout the weekend – at least until it was told to leave the harbour, apparently for being too noisy. Insert your own joke about the sound of Formula One in 2014 here.


These are difficult days for Sauber. With no points on the board in 2014, the last thing the Swiss team needed was a pair of race-ending mistakes from drivers Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez on the streets. As they crashed, both drivers were wearing helmets specially-designed by Romero Britto, a Brazilian pop artist, as part of a project to raise awareness for Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation for Cancer Research. The helmets, fortunately undamaged in the accidents, will be auctioned off. Perhaps Sauber will have more luck on another type of track: the team has been commissioned to help build a bobsleigh, which will be used by the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation (FIBT) for its junior events. Prince Albert, a noted bob-man, was an interested visitor to the team’s display in the Monaco paddock.


It must have been galling for Caterham to watch Marussia score their first Formula One points, particularly so amidst reports that the green team’s owner, Tony Fernandes (above, left), appears to have put the wheels in motion to sell the team. Fernandes, who had a considerably better weekend in his role as Queens Park Rangers owner, has lost interest in Formula One over the past year and, according to a Bloomberg report on Sunday, is now having a sale prospectus for the team and the wider car company he has built around it distributed to potential buyers. Fernandes, Bloomberg reports, is looking for around UK£350 million for the group, which also includes specialist technical arms, and although there has been no official word from the Malaysian – he was otherwise engaged at Wembley – it is believed the sales pack is making its way around the Middle East.

It was set to be another fairly standard weekend for Formula One’s smallest team, which has become accustomed to making up the numbers in the back third of the field. All that changed on Sunday, however, with a terrific driver from Jules Bianchi yielding two points, the first in the team’s five-year history, for ninth place. Quite what that will be worth at the end of the season depends on results from now until then, but if Marussia were to finish in the top ten in the world championship for a second successive year it would mean it moves into a new section of Formula One’s complex wealth-distribution formula, which might in turn mean the team is handed a US$30 million increase in prize money. The team’s ownership is believed to have quietly changed hands in recent weeks after Russian luxury car company Marussia Motors closed its doors. A company called Marussia Communications Limited is now thought to own the team, although it remains an independently-run entity. A potentially slightly richer one, too, after a weekend where Marussia showed that while the Monaco Grand Prix may be about many things, it is, most of all, about the glory.

Quote of the weekend

“Unfortunately we seem to have done this in one of the more expensive places to go out, and we have the smallest budget in Formula One. Maybe a half for everyone?”

The financial reality of scoring points in Formula One hits Marussia’s sporting director Graeme Lowdon.