Op-Ed: For Renault, a few days in Monaco are good for the wallet

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Say it with me: Bobby K is money.

In just the last few hours, the Renault F1 team has announced a new sponsor, Trina Solar, which will have a little spot on the nose of the car, and most recently that the team has a new partner: Tarek Obaid, co-founder and CEO of PetroSaudi International, an oil and gas company.

The team is setting itself up to be around a lot longer than we all expected just six months ago. One question is: Will it help the team keep Robert Kubica?

But that’s for the near future. Today, Renault is looking a little more financially fat. Here’s the background on Obaid as well as Grace’s first take on the news:

Renault F1 Team Chairman Gerard Lopez commented: “It is a true privilege to announce that my long-standing business associate and good friend Tarek Obaid will be joining the Renault F1 Team. Tarek brings a unique global perspective to our business as we solidify our operating model and begin an ambitious development programme.”

Mr. Obaid said, “I am excited to join such a talented group with grand ideas and projects. Gerard is recognized as a global financial leader and creative innovator; I am happy to team up with him. I plan to be associated with the Renault F1 Team for many years to come as we pool our efforts and resources to return this proud symbol of French industry to the forefront of Formula 1.”

Since December 2009, when Genii Capital acquired a majority stake in the Renault F1 Team to begin its F1 partnership with the Renault Group, the team has embarked on a determined strategy of revitalization both on track and off.

On track, a new management structure, dynamic driver line-up and targeted technical investment at Enstone, have yielded a promising start to the 2010 season that has re-established the Renault F1 Team as a credible sporting force. Off track, the team has attracted new business wins through the combination of its sporting pedigree and the unique added-value of the Genii Business Exchange*.

“Tarek’s vast experience in identifying and executing successful strategic investment opportunities will be crucial as we expand the Renault F1 Team brand name, especially in the Middle East,” concluded Gerard Lopez. “This tie-up also further strengthens the collaboration between the French and Saudi private sectors.”

Mr. Obaid received his BS in International Relations from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He is also a founder and investor in a series of companies, including a number of co-investments with Genii Capital. He is fluent in Arabic, English and French.

*The Genii Business Exchange utilizes the F1 platform as a travelling embassy for Genii Capital’s activities in order to build, consolidate and activate business and political relationships on a global scale. The Exchange enables contact between existing team partners, the Genii Capital network of companies, and new business contacts throughout the world.*

Here’s my off-the-top unpacking. The relationship that already appears to exist between Obaid and Lopez, as well as PetroSaudi and Genii, sounds a bit different than the typical F1 business partnership. This is something that seems to be developing naturally from other business work and is not the hasty F1 marriage of a team and sponsor (more like the announced partnership with Trina Solar, for instance).

I also think the upfront description of the Genii Business Exchange is of note. We all know that in many ways Formula 1 is the ultimate “luxury box” for companies to entertain their colleagues and to impress would-be business partners.** I suspect Obaid will be a terrific addition to that outreach effort and will likely open doors in the Middle East.

I do wonder if we shall see PetroSaudi on the car.

I know we will see Trina Solar. The photo accompanying the news already has it in place.

The sponsorship will take the form of on-car logo branding on the nose of the R30 race car, ensuring excellent opportunities for worldwide marketing exposure. Furthermore, this partnership will showcase day-to-day applications of solar PV technology in various high-visibility areas of the Renault F1 Team operations including the team’s paddock motorhome and VIP hospitality facilities.

Trina Solar and the Renault F1 Team will also conduct a joint analysis and evaluation programme to assess how Trina Solar technologies can be integrated into the operations and ongoing upgrades of the Renault F1 Team’s Enstone production facilities in a performance-proven, cost-effective manner.

[snip]

Trina Solar Limited (NYSE: TSL), through its wholly-owned subsidiary Changzhou Trina Solar Energy Co. Ltd., is a well recognized manufacturer of high quality modules and has a long history as a solar PV pioneer since its foundation in 1997 as a system installation company. Trina Solar is one of the few PV manufacturers that have developed a vertically integrated business model from the production of monocrystalline and multicrystalline silicon ingots, wafers and cells to the assembly of high quality modules. Trina Solar’s products provide reliable and environmentally-friendly electric power for a growing variety of end-user applications worldwide. For further information, please visit Trina Solar’s website at http://www.trinasolar.com.

Someone else will have to alert me to this, just because it wasn’t something I was paying attention to over the years: Is the trend toward the team’s using/showcasing a partner’s wares at all new, or has that always been part of the game? I’m thinking of Red Bull’s crazy energy-enhancing pit crew clothing, for instance, but it seems like a number of the partners that have come on board lately also are providing their technology/equipment/etc. to the team. Maybe that’s always been true; but if you are like me, maybe it is something you haven’t had any reason to pay attention to in the past.

But here’s where it gets interesting:

We are delighted to welcome Trina Solar onboard as a new partner of the Renault F1 Team,” said Renault F1 Team Chairman Gerard Lopez. “Trina Solar is the sport’s first major sponsor from the domain of environmental technologies and we are also proud to welcome a major Chinese company to the sport. We are excited about the development of this new relationship in three directions: first, to use Formula One as a global platform for promoting the adoption of advanced technologies; second, to explore how Trina Solar can increase value to the Renault F1 Team’s operations while simultaneously allowing the team to reduce its environmental impact; and third, to explore mutual opportunities through HeliosMax, a Genii Capital portfolio company specialised in project design and engineering for solar panel technology.”

That’s right. Renault just threw down the “green card.” And yes, I argued the teams should do just this in an effort to off-set criticism about the sport’s environmental impact.

I think this is the first in a series of relationships we will see being announced with “green” companies as F1 seeks a way to improve its environmental practices and green companies realize what others — alcohol, tobacco, oil, banks — have realized in the past: F1’s good marketing.

Now, Renault just needs to keep performing as the “best of the rest” team.

* I hope Grace notes that, yes!, that is a footnote to Renault’s release!
** E-mail Todd to help me convince him F1B needs a luxury box at the 2011 Canadian GP.

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