Pole Position: Sponsor the future stars

Sponsorship is needed at all levels of motorsports from the newcomers to the F1 stars.

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One of the great mysteries of motorsport is sponsorship. At the highest level, where Formula One teams employ hundreds of highly qualified engineers and manufacturing staff to design and build their race cars, sponsors effectively pay the wages and foot the bill for all the R&D and production costs, and pay for the engines. But why?

The benefit a sponsor seeks is brand exposure to Formula One's 600 million global viewers. So the return on their sponsorship investment is often in direct proportion to the success or popularity of their chosen team on whose car their logo is attached. Calculation of that benefit is based on the on-screen media value, but this is only half the picture as there are tens of thousands of print media outlets carrying editorial and pictures every day. The return on investment for a sponsor of a top team is impressive, and typically exceeds US$1 million (Dh3.67m) from just one race, and $5m (Dh18.3m) is not uncommon. Bear in mind there will be 19 races this season.

But what happens at the other end of the sport, where our stars of the future are learning their trade? Of course many young people don't have enough money and cannot fund racing. So they rely totally on the support and encouragement of their parents until they get to the point where their talent shines through and they are racing in a promoted series, where brand exposure becomes commercially viable courtesy of TV and print media coverage.

The bottom line is that, until drivers graduate to a race series that has TV exposure, then sponsorship is going to be largely based on the goodwill of friends and relatives, because there is no viable value proposition for a sponsor. Having said that, if a driver is creative and is willing to work actively as an ambassador for a sponsor to help promote their brand, there is no reason why a relationship cannot be built that might evolve into a long-term partnership. This will typically involve branding the car, inviting the sponsor and their guests to enjoy hospitality with the team at race days, and using the car to help promote interest in the sponsor's company.

But the success of Formula One sponsorship has an unfortunate side effect. Parents of young drivers are sometimes led to believe that commercial sponsors will have an interest in their offspring's activities from day one. This is, of course, highly unlikely. Unless those parents are able to invest in the personal development and aspirations of their children, those worthy ambitions will probably remain unfulfilled.

It is therefore the responsibility of those of us in both the private and public sectors, who would like to see the sport of motor racing flourish in the UAE, to develop mechanisms and incentives that will educate and encourage those parents to support their children's ambitions where appropriate. From my perspective, I am pleased that the awareness of this crucial issue is growing and will be addressed. If this continues and develops, there is absolutely no reason why we cannot expect to see a UAE flag on a race car in a Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit.

Barry Hope is a director of GulfSport Racing, which is hoping to produce the first Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Join the UAE racing community online at www.singleseaterblog.com