Formula One and corporate are words often found in same sentence together. You see all the stickers on the sides of the car and enviously wonder whether the VIP guests are drinking the ten-year old red or white back in the hospitality suite.
Yesterday, I crossed over to the ‘dark side’ and took my first tentative steps in the corporate side of Formula One. It was a situation I never really expected to be in when I grew up watching the likes of Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and Mika Hakkinen go head-to-head on a fortnightly basis.
I was the guest of Mobil 1 for the day on a tour of the McLaren Technology Centre, where we got to see the inner workings of one of F1’s most successful teams.
On a personal level as a lifelong F1 fan, it was awe-inspiring. Particular highlights included seeing the all-conquering 1988 car (which won 15 out of 16 races) and Hakkinen’s 1998 title winner. I can vaguely remember sobbing as a nine-year-old as Mika defeated my boyhood hero Michael Schumacher at Suzuka with that very car. To see it in the metal gave me the goosebumps.
So what of the corporate bit? Well, I soon learned that a sticker on the car isn’t just the end of a sponsor’s relationship. They prefer to be known as partners, not sponsors. Take McLaren’s title sponsor Vodafone. The speed of McLaren’s telemetry communications have increased 10 times over since it joined.
Olympus provides a fibre optic camera, which can get in nooks and crannies of the gearbox the human eye can’t under the current regulations. The camera has saved McLaren two DNfs thanks to identifying problems. Johnnie Walker presumably makes sure the victory celebrations are that bit more memorable…
Mobil 1, however, offers us the most relevance to road cars. The oil you buy at your local garage has become the product it has due to Mobil 1’s involvement in F1. Hundreds of components are needed to make up an F1 car and to use an old analogy, you’re only as strong as you’re weakest link. So even something like engine oil is crucial.
Engine oil serves four purposes in Formula One – to reduce friction, to keep the engine cool, to increase power and to improve reliability. Electric and hybrid powertrains are undoubtedly going to be big part of the future of road cars, but equally the internal combustion engine shows no signs of going away.
So despite the vast (and excessive) wealth involved in F1, the development that goes on in the labs looking for that extra tenth does eventually filter down to your local showroom. The four key aspects to the F1 oil are just as relevant in road cars, especially with the current trend towards downsizing.