The relevance of sponsorships in motorsport
The whole history of racing is based on sponsorships. If we have the pleasure and enjoyment of motorsport, it is mainly thanks to the thousands of companies that have chosen to promote themselves through this sector.
In the beginning, sponsorship came from whole countries or wealthy individuals who, thanks to their financial resources, were able to sustain the financial side of racing. As time went on, the sport became more complex and more expensive, causing also wealthy people to struggle with.
Meanwhile, the economy was booming, many companies began to realise how good it was for their image to be associated with a racing team. From manufacturers to technical suppliers, many corporations decided to promote themselves through one of the most fascinating and exciting sports in the world.
While it was clear what a supplier could gain from sponsoring the top motor racing series and teams, also brands that were not strictly related to automotive starts to perceive the great advantages of showing their logos on the most advanced pieces of machinery.
Today, sponsorship is broader and more complex, with many opportunities arising from new ways of thinking and new means of promoting a brand, such as sponsored events, new tech content (social, augmented reality, blockchain technology, NFT) and virtual advertising. Even if the possibilities are starting to become endless, the two main ways to expose a brand are still linked to the visual branding of a car and the pairing of a sponsor's name with that of the team.
The “Visa Cash App Racing Bulls” and “Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber” cases
Despite the brief introduction, just reading the title of this paragraph is enough to understand that something is not quite right. Over the past few days, the names of the two teams that are changing their identities have been announced and the worldwide reaction were not so positive.
First, the Sauber team announced that their new name would be "Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber", a decision that make fans questioning about, considering that the partnership with Alfa Romeo (a prestigious and victorious brand in the early stages of f1) has just ended and the new partner for 2026 will be Audi, which has made a huge effort to join Formula One.
In recent days, the Faenza-based team, which had been rumoured to be changing its identity, has also revealed its new name. The change comes just three years after the team switched from Toro Rosso (2006-2019) to Alpha Tauri (2020-2023). Surprisingly, the new team’s name will be one of the longest and most complex ever seen in F1: “Visa Cash App Racing Bulls". Obviously, the fans were confused about this decision and the main reaction was a joke about the similarity of this name to one of the most disappointing teams of the late ninety’s: "MasterCard Lola Formula One Racing Team".
In both cases, the new names have not had the desired effect. There are several reasons for this, but it is important to mention the most important ones:
Firstly, both Sauber and Alpha Tauri have got an enormous and prestigious history and heritage in Formula One (the Faenza’s team was previously called Toro Rosso and, at First, Minardi), so pairing a sponsor’s name with such an important team (even if it might seem like a good idea), given the way Formula One works, will only lead to fans simply forgetting and not mentioning it. One example, among many others, is what happened with the Haas team in 2021. In that year, the full name of the team was "Uralkali Haas F1 Team", but the fans always used just the team’s name to refer to them, ignoring the main sponsor, which, even though it was only two years ago, probably nobody remembers Uralkali.
Finally, such complex and long names will suffer from the human tendency to simplify. Fans will refer to these teams by their original names because they are easier to say and remember than the newer ones. So, it is easy to predict that, for example, the next season the Sauber team will be called just "Sauber" and that nobody will use the full name "Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber", except for some senior member of the team itself, and that is not exactly what a sponsor wants to achieve.
Is this the right path for sponsorship in Formula One?
It is easy to see why this type of sponsorship is not as effective as it might seem. In a world where marketing and sponsorship are evolving at an incredible pace (just look at McLaren's LED displays on their car last year, which were able to change sponsors during the race), F1 appears to be stuck in an old way of thinking that is not suitable with the current era of motorsport.
Not only does this approach to sponsorship fail to achieve its goals, but it also removes value from one of the most important assets some teams have: their heritage. Teams like Sauber and Alpha Tauri have written a lot of history in the world of Formula One, and it is hard to remember those beautiful pages of history (think of Vettel's first win at Monza with a Toro Rosso in 2008) if you are no longer standing for that legacy.
In conclusion, it is understandable why this type of sponsorship is not suitable for the new era of F1. These years can be seen as a new rebirth of the sport, and this condition should be used to create new ways of communicating with fans worldwide, while protecting the assets that a team already has and that cannot be replicated, such as a pedigree in racing, rather than creating partnerships that are not capable of highlighting the strengths of a team or creating beneficial exposure for the sponsors.