“Win on Sunday, sell on Monday,” is an old car industry adage.
It may not apply anymore.
Infiniti is the title sponsor of the Infiniti Red Bull Racing Formula One team, the team of four-time F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel recently clinched his fourth championship in a row with four races left in the season, a dominating performance that seems like good news for the brand with its name on his car.
That’s not the case, Andy Palmer, executive vice president of Infiniti parent Nissan, told Autocar. Palmer said Infiniti is mainly in the F1 game to build brand awareness, and that means getting people to watch the races.
“From that point of view you could say Sebastian has been too successful,” Palmer told Autocar, “Wrapping up the championship with four races to run is maybe not good news for us from that perspective.”
In other words, Vettel’s dominance has taken the sport out of F1. It’s made the racing too boring.
Even though Infiniti makes car, and F1 is a form of motorsport, Infiniti’s concerns are like those of any other sponsor. It wants as many people as possible to see its name and logo.
Historically, carmakers and race teams have been more closely connected.
Racing used to be a way for car companies to show off the performance and durability of its products. There was a time when NASCAR actually had stock cars, and that’s where the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” mantra comes from.
F1 never featured cars that came from showrooms, but the technology and experience developed racing often trickled down to production cars. Ferrari, in particular, has aggressively leveraged F1 tech – like the hybrid system in the new LaFerrari – to make production cars better.
However, F1 cars have gotten so advanced that there is little that can be directly applied to any road-going vehicle short of a million-dollar supercar, although F1 hopes the new hybrid drivetrains in its cars in the 2014 season will help mass-market hybrid technology in the near future.
Infiniti’s contribution to Red Bull Racing is mostly measured by dollars. The cars are developed and built by the team, and they use engines built by Renault – Nissan’s sister company – that have nothing in common with production engines.
Unlike Ferrari and other teams that are organs of car companies, Infiniti and Red Bull Racing are separate organizations. Since Infiniti is just a sponsor, cross pollination between racing and road-going car development doesn’t happen very often.
Earlier this year, Infiniti named Vettel “Director of Performance,” saying that he helped tune the 2014 Q50. It also launched a Vettel Edition FX50 crossover, and plans to slap the champ’s name on additional models.
However if no one is watching F1, no one will care that Vettel’s name is on their special-edition car; hence Infiniti’s dilemma. It may be part of the winning team, but it could still be a loser.
Frankly, we think Infiniti has a simple solution glaring it in the face: make more interesting cars. How many sales are you really missing out on if some people don’t watch the last four races of the 2013 F1 season? We wager few. Make a car people might actually want to buy, though, and you could win those race fans over handily.