Infiniti has the very good fortune to have the best Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel behind the wheel of the car it co-sponsors with Red Bull Racing. That’s high-octane fuel in the tank because Infiniti, in its third year of the partnership, and now title sponsor, will keep rolling with the deal at least until 2016.
Andreas Sigl, global director of Infiniti Formula One, tells Marketing Daily that while Infiniti gets branding on the F1 car, equipment and driver and team outfits, it’s Vettel -- who became Infiniti's first-ever global brand ambassador in 2011 -- who supercharges the relationship for awareness and product development.
But Vettel may have more influence on what’s in the showroom. Beginning with the 2013 Formula One season, Infiniti became the technical partner of what is now Infiniti Red Bull Racing, and also elevated Vettel -- who had worked on development of the Q50 crossover, and the limited-edition Vettel FX, among other vehicles -- to Infiniti's director of performance, a change announced at the New York show this year.
"He’s not just a ‘pretty face’,” says Sigl -- “he is the world's best driver, and our engineers listen because he is very sensitive the way he can read the car, beyond just pure data. We are doing things with him both on production cars and racing cars."
And he says, Vettel aligns perfectly with this particular aspect of Formula One as a "driver" of global awareness. While Vettel is German, he says, the driver, like Michael Schumacher and Jackie Stewart, is the top dog, the Manchester United, of Formula racing.
Sigl says Infiniti started looking at F1 a couple of years back when the brand was eying global opportunities. He says it wasn't an easy decision because of "competing forms of media instruments for both articulating who we are and reaching a global audience: the Olympics or World Cup and golf. You have all of those different opportunities.” But, he notes, the elephant at the table has always been motorsports. “And the one that fits the best in terms of reach and frequency is Formula One."
The automaker began its F1 sponsorship with Red Bull Racing in 2011 with a deal covering both the 2011 and 2012 F1 seasons. Renault as part of the Renault-Nissan alliance, provides the engine.
Sigl says popularity of the sport is growing beyond Europe to China, Oceana, the Middle East, Africa, and the Americas. "Especially in French-speaking part of Canada, it's very big. Also in Mexico and Brazil, which we are about to enter." In the U.S., Formula One isn't exactly a going sport, but Sigl points out that Infiniti doesn't have an awareness problem here, either. "Where you have an unaided [brand] awareness of maybe 90% in the United States, when you get to places like Australia and Asia, first you have to explain how to spell Infiniti and explain that we aren't making loudspeakers or ice cream.
"I think what you see [with F1] is global reach, but also better articulation of who we are. Formula One is a projection of where we're going rather than looking in the rear-view mirror of where we've been," he says.