What Visa Cash App RB F1 Team reminds us about F1, and sports

The 2024 Formula 1 season kicks off in a few short weeks, as the teams will head to Bahrain for a few days of pre-season testing before the calendar begins in earnest.

However, it has already been an off-season filled with surprises, from the shocking sacking of Guenther Steiner at Haas to the two newly-named teams on the grid: Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber, and the announcement today of Visa Cash App RB F1 Team.

Stake, of course, is the new name for the organization once known as Alfa Romeo. While that team will fold under the Audi brand in 2026, becoming the Audi works team, there are still two years before that deal comes to life. So by the time you get acclimated to “Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber,” it will be time to relearn the name.

Then there is the Visa Cash App RB F1 Team, once known as AlphaTauri.

It is certainly a period of change, and one that might prove instructive. Because these moves highlight the fact that in sports today — including F1 — cash is king.

In this case, literally and figuratively.

After all, operating an F1 team is an expensive endeavor. Teams spend, by some estimates, around $450 million to operate for a single season. While there is the cost cap in place — teams can spend up to $145.6 million per year — there are significant exceptions to that cost cap, most notably driver salaries. Other exceptions include salaries for some of the highest-paid staff members, travel expenses, marketing expenditures, and costs associated with non-F1 activities (such as the Mercedes’ America’s Cup entry).

Those dollars can add up pretty quickly.

As such, teams are finding ways to squeeze every possible bit of value out of the yearly operation, and team brand names are the next logical step. Gone are the days when the team name was simply the founding constructor. Looking at the official grid for the 2024 season illuminates the fact that those days are gone:

f1 entry list 2024 0

That’s right. You have the MoneyGram Haas F1 Team, the Aston Martin Aramco Formula One Team, and the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team, a name that sometimes their own leaders forget.

Just consider the newly-minted Visa Cash App RB F1 Team and their own journey. The outfit began as Minardi, a team that started competing in auto racing in 1979 and eventually worked its way into the F1 grid from 1985 until 2005. The team found little success on the track and was sold in 2001 to Australian businessman Paul Stoddart. Stoddart operated the team until 2005, but facing rising costs and a lack of success on the track, he started looking for buyers.

Enter Red Bull Racing, who viewed the Minardi operation as a chance to have a racing program for their younger drivers. Red Bull bought the Minardi team, rebranding it as Toro Rosso, Italian for “Red Bull.”

Toro Rosso stuck for a while, but when Red Bull expanded into the fashion industry in 2018, the organization wanted a way to promote the new side of their business.

The fashion brand? AlphaTauri. The result? Toro Rosso became Scuderia AlphaTauri for the 2019 season, operating as AlphaTauri until this latest change.

Brand names and licensing agreements are not isolated to F1, and are not isolated to just F1 teams, in the sporting world. While the NFL might not have a team like the Visa Cash App New England Patriots — yet — look around the Patriots and it is not hard to find sponsorship deals. They play at Gillette Stadium, after all, and every possible inch of the stadium is plastered with advertisements.

NFL teams even find unique ways to create sponsorship and partnership opportunities. On Saturday night the San Francisco 49ers were hosting the Green Bay Packers in a Divisional Round game of the NFL Playoffs. Star offensive player Deebo Samuel was hurt early in the game, and the team provided an update on social media. See if you can notice the inherent partnership deal in the post:

That’s right. The health update on a 49ers player was part of a sponsorship deal with Dignity Health, the largest hospital provider in California.

And as noted above, this is not limited to just the F1 teams. While we may always call it the Australian Grand Prix, its official name is the Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix. In fact, the vast majority of the races themselves have a title sponsor.

The line between “sport” and “business” is getting blurrier all across the sporting world, but F1 is near the top of that list. After all, auto racing is a sport dominated by the phrase “win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”

Is there an end in sight? Probably not. Our friends at Planet F1 posited in a piece on Wednesday that you might see Max Verstappen Jr. signing a deal with Google Racing. Does that seem far-fetched?

Right now, probably not.

In many ways, these deals are perhaps indicative of the growing popularity of F1. Businesses want in on the game, as they too are seeing the growth of the sport worldwide. The idea of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” is not restricted to auto manufacturers anymore. As part of their deal with Red Bull, Visa is not only the title sponsor for the Visa Cash App RB F1 Team, but they will also have their logo on the Red Bull cars this season. 24 races of Max Verstappen running up front with a Visa logo on his RB20 is worth something to the financial company.

In sports, as in life, cash is king.

This F1 off-season is just the latest example.

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