For the past few months rumours have been swirling around Formula One that US technology firm Honeywell will be announced as title sponsor of the Lotus team. The chatter became so widespread that one senior marketing boss described it as an "open secret." Many media outlets presumed that the deal had been signed and some even began talking about the amount Honeywell is likely to be paying. Despite all the talk, nothing concrete has been announced and Lotus F1 team principal Eric Boullier has now set the record straight.
Speaking at the team's Enstone HQ, Boullier told Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt, when asked whether it will have a new title sponsor this year, the Frenchman said "I hope so." However, he then added "I have to sign it first."
Boullier acknowledged the rumours about the link between Lotus and Honeywell but refused to say whether it is indeed the brand that he is in talks with. Senior sources in F1 have confirmed to Sylt that last year a representative of Honeywell attended the Lotus sponsor summit which is usually only reserved for existing partners of the team. However, it is also understood that both Honeywell's chief executive and its head of communications have denied that any deal is in place to sponsor Lotus.
The developments have baffled industry observers since F1 sponsorship deals are normally shrouded in secrecy before they are signed. Sponsors and teams usually ensure that anyone involved with negotiations is bound by a non disclosure agreement to prevent leaks which could jeopardise the deal. One notable exception to this veil of secrecy was also connected to Lotus. It involved the deal signed by the team with Coca-Cola's energy drinks brand Burn. This was announced in November last year but came as no surprise to the F1 industry since Sylt had revealed over four months earlier that Coca-Cola was investigating sponsorship of F1.
Although Lotus hasn't yet announced a title partner it is still busy revving up its portfolio and on Monday announced a deal with clothing company Henri Lloyd which sponsored Mercedes until 2011. Boullier said that in addition to Mercedes, McLaren and Williams are "mainly the two teams that we are fighting against" when it comes to securing sponsorship.
With a better performance record than Mercedes and Williams and a lower sponsorship rate card than McLaren, Lotus has been able to build up an enviable portfolio of partners. It includes household names such as Microsoft and Unilever, in addition to Coca-Cola, but Boullier says they are primarily attracted for business-to-business reasons rather than the exposure to F1's 515m annual television viewers.
"Microsoft and Unilever are interested in the use of marketing, the visibility and hospitality but the most important part they are interested in is the way we organise the company, our process. How fast we can deliver the product. They are using us first as R&D, watching our process and we are doing a lot of seminars here."
The package is clearly appealing and it is only a matter of time before we find out which brand it attracts next.