By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Luxury watch brand Tag Heuer is to end a 30-year partnership with struggling McLaren to join Formula One rivals Red Bull in another blow for the Honda-powered team concluding their worst ever season.
A McLaren spokesman confirmed on Wednesday that one of the sport’s longest and most successful sponsorships would end this year.
Recalling the team’s titles and race wins with champions Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton, he highlighted the qualities of high technology, precision and speed associated with both parties.
“It is therefore with gratitude that we announce the end of our 30-year partnership, satisfied as both parties are with a job well done,” added the spokesman.
“Our relationship with Tag Heuer’s parent company LVMH continues via our new partnership with Chandon, announced last month.”
Tag Heuer Chief Executive Jean-Claude Biver told Swiss magazine L’Hebdo in an interview that the brand had signed a deal with Red Bull, whose deal with Japanese watch brand Casio ends this year, for next season.
“It’s a young, dynamic, go-getting team that fits perfectly with the TAG Heuer strategy,” he said.
McLaren and Red Bull are bitter rivals on the racetrack, with the latter having far more success in recent years thanks in large part to their signing of ace former McLaren designer Adrian Newey.
While McLaren are the second most successful team in Formula One history, they have not won a constructors’ title since 1998 while Red Bull racked up four successive drivers’ titles between 2010 and 2013.
McLaren are ninth of 10 teams in the current championship and have not won a race since 2012.
Despite their problems with new engine partners Honda, which has brought just 27 points from 18 races, McLaren have blocked an attempt by Red Bull to secure the Japanese manufacturer’s power units for 2016.
Red Bull’s taking a top sponsor from McLaren is unlikely to have improved the mood of company head Ron Dennis, who regained control of the team at the start of the year.
Tag Heuer were previously owned by Luxembourg-based TAG, whose Saudi-born chief executive Mansour Ojjeh has a 25 percent shareholding in McLaren. Dennis also holds 25 percent and Bahrain’s Mumtalakat sovereign wealth fund the remainder.
McLaren have been without a title sponsor since 2013, when Vodafone departed, and have lost other backers since then.
German fashion brand Hugo Boss, who had been with McLaren for 33 years, switched to world champions Mercedes this season, while Santander’s involvement has shrunk.
Diageo-owned Whisky brand Johnnie Walker has been linked with a move from McLaren to Force India, the team co-owned by liquor magnate Vijay Mallya.
McLaren have recognised that the lack of performance on the track will cost them heavily in lost championship revenues, even if Honda are contributing significant amounts.
(Editing by John O’Brien)