What’s In a Name?


2011 was a great year for Formula One, its competitors, sponsors, and its fans. But no matter how magnificent a season, no-one can afford to rest for a moment. The teams are focused on the next year, and how the car will look, what sponsors will be on it, what colour it will be, and who will drive it. But this year, it seems a few have decided that they also want a new name to go with their new car. Three teams are making small changes to their names, whilst one is going for something new altogether.

Mercedes are making the smallest change to their name for next year, by losing two letters before adding three small, but oh-so-powerful letters: AMG. They are three letters that send a shiver down the spine of a true petrol head, a mark of power, poise, and performance. You can see why they’ve done it, but they did have the same name for two years in a row. Maybe they just fancied a little alteration. This has to be the smallest name change in their history. This team has had more identities than any other, starting life as the Matra International team, run by Ken Tyrell, before becoming Tyrell Racing in 1970. In 1999, they became British American Racing, or BAR, who were bought out by Honda, who in turn left the sport in the economic downturn at the end of 2008. Out of the ashes rose the almighty Brawn GP team, who won both championships, but they only lasted a year before they were bought out by Mercedes, bringing us to the smallest and most recent name change they have had. So, just to clarify, the Silver Arrows will be the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team next year. For their 2011 name, read GP instead of AMG. They do say that attention to detail is essential, especially in Formula One…

As for Virgin, the name change is something people were concerned about from day one. The Formula One community doesn’t like the teams to change their names so often, so when the team were named Virgin Racing, without Richard Branson allegedly owning any equity in the team, there were concerns that this kind of thing would happen. It will be Marussia F1 team for next year, but no-one will notice unless they make a step forward in terms of performance.

Alongside this we have, finally, an end to the ridiculous Lotus naming row. Tony Fernandes’ 1Malaysia (UK) Racing Limited, who have raced as Lotus Racing and then Team Lotus, will be called Team Caterham for next year, having bought out the car firm. In 2010, the team were allowed to use the Lotus name as Proton, who own the car company, gave them permission. In a move that seemed akin to a baby throwing its toys out of the pram, they then decided that they didn’t want to do that anymore, and so withdrew their permission and started to sponsor the Renault team. 1Malaysia, determined not to be outdone, then purchased the rights to the classic Team Lotus name, a separate entity not owned by Proton, from David Hunt, brother of the great James. Proton was by this point well into bed with the Renault team, owned in the main by Genii Capital, and will be known as the Lotus F1 Team for 2012. So, who was in the wrong in Lotus-gate? Neither party really acted fantastically well, and there was a very schoolyard feel to the whole affair. The High Court ruled that 1Malaysia was well within its rights to use the Team Lotus name, but couldn’t use the name Lotus separately. However, it appears that some information, such as the acquisition of Caterham, was withheld during the original hearing and that had it not been, the outcome could have been quite different. Suffice to say, this matter was not good for anyone, but especially bad for Formula One.

But changing names is not a new thing in Formula One; indeed, it appears to be rather fashionable. The current world champions are on their third name since they were founded 1997, being first Stewart, then Ford took over for a while as Jaguar, before Dietrich Mateschitz bought the team for $1 and they became Red Bull. The Red Bull junior team has changed its identity as well, but only a modest once. Scuderia Toro Rosso have been racing since 1985, but they were Minardi until the end of 2005. Force India is not dissimilar, having started life as the Jordan team. They were bought by Midland, but spent one more year as Jordan before becoming Midland, who then became Spyker for also a single year, to now as Force India.

Some teams, however, have resisted this fashion for a long time. McLaren have been McLaren since day one. The only evidence of their merger with Ron Dennis’ Project Four team is in the car names, for example the classic MP4/4 was the fourth car built after the companies joined forces, where the M stands for McLaren and the P4 for Project Four. Other than that, they maintained the same identity, in name at least. Ferrari too is an obvious example, as is Williams, although they both started by racing other people’s cars, with HRT being the final team to have the same name continuously as when they started. It is possible, I suppose, to include Sauber in this list, as they are Sauber now and were Sauber when they started, but there was a brief interlude when they were BMW Sauber, with the manufacturer buying the team from Peter Sauber before selling it when the world economy went up in flames.

The teams like changing their names. Some say that it ruins the tradition of the sport. But then again, That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet. The teams don’t really care what name is written on the sign outside the factory, and, if pushed, neither does the fan. All they care about is that their team wins. Heritage counts for nothing in this game. As I’ve said before, Formula One doesn’t live in the past; it lives in the future.

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