ABU DHABI // With a smile, a handshake and a pair of signatures, Etihad Airways extended its title sponsorship of the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday. The cost of the new deal remains undisclosed, but it will run until 2021 to make the Abu Dhabi carrier one of the sport’s longest-standing title sponsors, having been on board since the UAE’s inaugural race in 2009.
To sign the deal, Bernie Ecclestone, the chief executive of Formula One, met with James Hogan, Etihad’s president and CEO, at the company’s new Innovation Centre in the capital to sign the deal. The UAE race organisers extended its grand prix contract with F1 on Thursday, but only on Saturday did Mr Ecclestone confirm the length of the deal.
“A gentleman never speaks about money and last night, but if you ignore the fact we get paid – which I will do – it’s important to have companies like Etihad supporting Formula One,” Mr Ecclestone said. “We feel we are an upmarket sport and it’s good to have super upmarket people aligned with us.”
Etihad are one of just three carriers that sponsor F1 races, alongside Gulf Air and Singapore Airlines, while Emirates sponsor the F1 World Championship. Mr Hogan said the deal with Etihad makes sense on several levels, most importantly because both the airline and the racing series strive for perfection.
“The great thing about Formula One for us is teamwork,” he said. “The focus on perfection is the same as what we do, so there is a great relationship and it reflects how we should take this partnership into our business. It is great brand association, but also business.”
Mr Ecclestone has long been an admirer of Yas Marina Circuit saying that when he first viewed the project in 2009 it broke his heart that the harbour was better looking than that of the sport’s most famous marina in Monte Carlo. His admiration for the UAE capital’s circuit has not wavered in the six years since. Now, he said, when potential new race venues approach him they hold Yas up as the standard.
“We are very proud of Abu Dhabi,” he said. “From day one, they have always said ‘If it’s wrong, it’s our fault’ and they have always followed what we have suggested. They have done a super job. In the old days, people used to say we want to do something better than Monaco – nobody mentions Monaco anymore.”
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