What’s in a name? A certain playwright would argue a rose called by any other name would smell as sweet.
Shakespeare didn’t stick around for the sponsorship era of Formula One, though. Money has always made the Formula One world go round, but the sport has only become more commercialised with the ever-increasing popularity of the series.
The advent of the budget cap has also encouraged teams towards the lower end of the championship to chase every last dollar. While the facilities of the big teams can’t be matched, outfits like Sauber now have a more level playing field in terms of spending.
At least that was the team’s expected name for the 2024 season ahead of its impending switch to Audi in 2026. Instead, the Hinwil-based outfit will line up under a new banner for the next two seasons: Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber, or Stake F1 Team for short.
In a year that will also see the Visa Cash App RB Formula One Team on the grid, it appears there’s not as much substance in a name anymore. Fans that longed for the nostalgic return of monikers like Sauber and Toro Rosso have been confronted with the commercial reality of Formula One in 2024.
On the other hand, does financial security enable a more care-free attitude to brand identity? After all, the team formerly known as AlphaTauri is backed by Red Bull, which has its own primary team on the grid, and Sauber is guaranteed to become Audi in time for the 2026 season.
Either way, motorsport fans will always be loyal to tradition. Overcoming hardened opinions and establishing the team’s new identity against a backdrop of scepticism are among the many challenges facing Alessandro Alunni Bravi, team representative of the Stake Formula One outfit, ahead of the first season under the new name.
Two names but “a strong identity”
When considering the deal with Stake, it’s important to note that the nature of the partnership is identical to the team’s previous agreement with Alfa Romeo. The challenge is convincing fans to back a team promoting an online casino incorporated in Curaçao over one of the most historic names in motorsport.
For Alunni Bravi, this difference highlights exactly how the team is attempting to stand out with the new name.
“We will have a strong identity, and the [team name] announcement is a testament to our intention,” he explains, speaking exclusively to BlackBook Motorsport. “[People] have underestimated the impact that this announcement will have. We had more than 22 million [impressions] and Drake, the biggest music artist in the world, announcing our new team name.”
If the focus is on challenging the status quo in Formula One, then selling naming rights to an online casino is certainly a disruptive approach. But Alunni Bravi’s claim about a “clear identity” appears to be flawed.
At the very least, races in Australia, Belgium, China, Qatar, and Spain will not feature the Stake F1 Team name. Instead, due to gambling laws in these countries, the team will compete as Kick F1 Team.
Last season, the Alfa Romeo Formula One team substituted the primary Stake branding for Kick logos in countries with strict laws around gambling
Kick is a live streaming service backed by Stake, so the lines are certainly blurry when it comes to the team’s identity, which may be a source of confusion for viewers, particularly more casual followers of the sport who don’t watch every race.
But Alunni Bravi says the team is fully aware of what is required.
“For each market, we have a full overview of the applicable laws,” he states. “We have a really cautious approach of the perimeters of the partnership, the promotional activities that we can do, the advertising activities that we can do.
“I think there is no difference to what has been done by McLaren in the past few years with their tobacco partner.”
It remains to be seen whether this split approach will win over fans, as the potential for confusion is clear. This is likely to be amplified by Sky Sports’ UK commentary duo of David Croft and Martin Brundle possibly calling the team Sauber or Alfa Romeo in initial races – if their history of team name transitions is anything to go by.
“I think there is no difference to what has been done by McLaren in the past few years with their tobacco partner.”– Alessandro Alunni Bravi, Team Representative, Stake F1 Team
How will the new name impact other sponsors?
The introduction of Stake as the team’s new naming rights partner also creates commercial hurdles that will need to be navigated.
Stake initially signed a three-year title sponsorship deal with the then-Alfa Romeo outfit worth a reported AU$140 million, but the iconic Italian manufacturer’s departure has left Stake standing alone.
Sponsors that initially agreed to partner with the Alfa Romeo team on multi-year deals are now linked to an online casino. Alunni Bravi says this is yet to cause significant issues, but he retains an air of caution.
“Not for the moment,” he says, when asked whether sponsors may have reservations. “We presented our new team identity and it was really appreciated by our partners.”
The main argument is that Formula One is, and always will be, a results business – for the teams and the commercial partners.
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“The first thing that [partners] are looking at is race results,” explains Alunni Bravi. “They want to experience a partnership with an F1 team, which is now an unparallelled global platform, but that first target is always to be competitive on track and provide our partners with a strong sporting platform.”
Of course, if results start turning in the team’s favour, then any concerns among partners will likely dissipate. But how likely is an upturn in fortunes for a team that finished ninth in the constructors’ standings last season, just four points clear of last-placed Haas?
Furthermore, there is a level of responsibility that should come with advertising a gambling product, especially with the influx of younger viewers now tuning in to Formula One. Alunni Bravi makes clear that this is under consideration.
“What is important is that, as a team, we are always in full compliance,” he outlines. “We communicate about our team and we communicate with our fans, but there are specific measures that are put in place, not just from our side but also from Stake’s side.”
Laying the groundwork for Audi
Ultimately, the next two years are something of a free hit for the Swiss team. Whatever happens, when the 2026 season rolls around it will officially be the Audi works team.
This season is set to see the German marque increase its stake in Sauber Group to 50 per cent, which will become 75 per cent during the 2025 campaign. In many ways, everything is building towards that big change in 2026.
“We are extremely happy that Audi has chosen Sauber as its strategic partner for its entry to Formula One,” says Alunni Bravi. “Audi is working in Nuremberg on the development and design of their PU [power unit] with a strong group led by Adam Baker, and we need to do our job and design a very competitive chassis.
“We need to work very hard in the next two years in order to develop our facilities and appoint the right people.”
Audi announced its intention to enter Formula One as an engine manufacturer in October 2022
That process initially saw McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl poached to become Sauber’s chief executive in January 2023 and oversee the team’s transition to Audi. Since then, James Key was appointed technical director with one eye on Audi’s arrival.
“There is a lot of interest from a lot of people about the Audi project,” Alunni Bravi adds. “You can understand this because I think the entry of Audi is one of the biggest and most exciting pieces of news [in Formula One] in the last decade.
“We have a long-term project ahead of us. We just need to make the right decisions and take the right steps, but I think everything will be in place to be competitive.”
Whether Stake remains linked to the team when it falls under the control of Audi is a different question, but Alunni Bravi claims that no partners will be “excluded from the possibility of joining the Audi works team project”.
In the short-term, Sauber appear to be gambling with their identity with the prospect of wiping the slate clean with Audi in 2026.