Red Bull Racing, Two-Wheeled Style?
by staff
Monday, December 17, 2012

Energy drink maker Red Bull. Ready to step back into major team sponsorship or ownership in MotoGP?
image thanks, Yamaha

The energy drink market probably is the most competitive non-alcoholic beverage battle in the world, as Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar and others try to prevail in the race to overstimulate teenagers, awaken drowsy adults and provide a mixer for vodka around the globe.

Motorsport has been one of the key battlegrounds among slingers of these fizzy beverages, including MotoGP. Red Bull, Rockstar and Monster have made significant imprints in the premier class of Grand Prix motorcycle racing, but in different ways.

Red Bull, Rockstar and Monster each serve as a personal sponsor to riders. Most significantly, Red Bull paired in 2012 with Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner, Monster with Valentino Rossi, Ben Spies, Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso, and Rockstar with Jorge Lorenzo. Monster and Red Bull also sponsor selected MotoGP races, as Red Bull will serve as the title backer for all three Grands Prix in United States in 2013.

But only Monster serves as a traditional team sponsor in the premier class, backing Tech 3 Yamaha. Why doesn't worldwide energy drink market leader Red Bull follow suit, especially since Monster looms larger than ever in its market share rear-view mirror?

It's a matter of philosophy for Red Bull. The company rarely adds its name to events that it doesn't control or create. The sponsorship of the three American Grands Prix and title sponsorship of the factory KTM team in Moto3 are rare exceptions. Red Bull did sponsor the old Clifford/MacLean 500 team of the early 2000s.

Control and ownership are the common carbonation among all of these well-known Red Bull sports and events associations: Felix Baumgartner's supersonic Stratos parachute jump from space. Travis Pastrana's New Year's Eve leap over San Diego harbor in a rally car. The Red Bull Formula One team. The Red Bull Air Race Series. The New York Red Bulls Major League Soccer team. Commercial rights to the World Rally Championship.

All of this conjecture just adds more credence to the thought that it's Kenny Roberts' world--you're just living in it.
So it's very unlikely that the Austrian company will enter into a traditional sponsorship arrangement with an existing MotoGP team. But that doesn't mean Red Bull isn't contemplating a bigger move into Grand Prix motorcycle racing.

Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz admitted in an interview with the FIA's AUTO magazine that the brand could take its ownership-over-sponsorship strategy that has proven so successful in Formula One to MotoGP. Red Bull bought the floundering Jaguar Racing in 2005 and transformed it into a team that won three consecutive F1 drivers' and constructors' world titles from 2010-12.

"There's a clear difference (between ownership and sponsorship), in both qualitative as well as quantitative terms," Mateschitz said. "With sponsorship, you buy a rear wing or advertising hoarding at a football stadium or ice hockey arena, or whatever event, for X amount of money.

"With ownership, you're 100 percent responsible, you're part of the landscape, and your contribution to success, or lack of it, is considerable. As for MotoGP, never say never; maybe we just haven't found the right team yet."

Formula One teams were ripe for corporate takeover in the middle of last decade as auto manufacturers started to shed the expense of works teams, especially as angry boards of directors and shareholders questioned spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year to fail to beat Ferrari and McLaren. But factory teams are ingrained into the ethos and framework of MotoGP, so it's unlikely Yamaha, Honda or Ducati would sell its works outfit to Red Bull.

But what about a scrappy, effective satellite team? Wouldn't it be a carbonation explosion in the the MotoGP paddock if Red Bull made an offer to Tech 3 owner Herve Poncharal to buy the team that Tech 3's current sponsor, Red Bull death rival Monster, couldn't or wouldn't match?

And what if the wooly mammoth in the global non-booze beverage market, Coca-Cola, decides to enter MotoGP with its energy drink brand, Burn, sometime soon? Coke announced last month the Burn brand was sponsoring the Lotus F1 team starting next season.

All of this conjecture just adds more credence to the thought that it's Kenny Roberts' world--you're just living in it. Roberts was before his time on so many levels that it literally takes a few years for the rest of the world to catch up. Examples? What were the issues that Roberts fought for in the last decade as a team owner? Building his own GP bike, one that could be sold to privateer teams. Also, building his own GP chassis that factory MotoGP engines could be bolted into. He railed against the cost of electronics, and suggested many times a spec system or a claiming system. Aren't those the current subjects du jour of MotoGP?

Another of his pet subjects back then? Luring Red Bull to sponsor his MotoGP team, calling the bike the "Red Bull KR" and going racing. It's known he threw several proposals at Red Bull but none came to fruition.


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