The Dutch company has pledged to transform the way F1 is presented on social media, an area Bernie Ecclestone has been highly critical of in the past, and take the sport to hundreds of millions of new fans.
Amid declining television audiences, falling from 600 million to 400 million over the past decade, and with the increasing switch to pay television, this is welcome news for a sport often mired in its own siral of negativity.
Sir Jackie Stewart, the three-time world champion, and David Coulthard, the 13-time grand prix winner, will be brand ambassadors for a partnership that will make Heineken title sponsor for three races a year. There are no plans for Heineken branding on any cars, but the firm is working on being involved with teams such as Red Bull in other ways.
Gianluca Di Tondo, Heineken senior director, said the company had reached 2.5 billion people with its campaigns around this year’s Uefa Champions League, and believed the same could be done with Formula One.
“We are aiming to replicate 100 per cent the success of the Champions League,” Di Tondo said. “Can we make F1 as big as the Champions League? Honestly, I think so. The point is to go beyond the races, and that is so important.”
Di Tondo said he was not concerned by Ecclestone’s preference for traditional broadcast rights and that the company had reached an agreement to broadcast F1 footage online.
The Italian added: “F1 is a platform that is loved by 200 million people. As a marketeer, I personally believe it is largely unexploited. I believe we can do with Formula One things that no one has done before.”
Heineken had been discussing the deal with Ecclestone’s Formula One Management for two years before it was confirmed in Montreal on Thursday.
It adds its brand to a host of controversial alcohol sponsorships in the sport, including Johnnie Walker and Chandon at McLaren, Martini at Williams, and Smirnoff at Force India. There had been moves to ban the branding in the European Parliament but these have faded for now.
However the deal immediately came under fire from the European Alcohol Policy Alliance. Research conducted by the group found there were 11 references to alcohol brands per minute in the Monaco Grand Prix.
Mariann Skar, its general secretary, said: “Formula One should ask themselves if they want to be an event about sport/driving/cars or an alcohol brand event? According to our understanding of today’s legislation it [the Heineken deal] goes against the spirit of the law to link alcohol marketing to driving.”
Di Tondo insisted Heineken would spend 30 per cent of its F1 communications budget on “if you drive, never drink” promotions.
Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo said he had been given assurances by Red Bull that the botched pit stop which cost him victory at the last race in Monaco will never happen again. The Australian admitted he did not speak to the team for several days after the race but added he still has faith in the team going in to Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix.
“For a few days I was upset and ruing some missed opportunities,” Ricciardo said. “But it’s one of those things that happens. It’s unfortunate it happened back to back. That expanded the feelings and emotion. I’ve moved on. I’ve got a lot of faith in the team.”