By Nick Mulvenney
MELBOURNE, March 14 (Reuters) - British mobile phone operator Vodafone will end its seven-year title sponsorship of McLaren at the end of the 2013 season, the company and Formula One team said on Thursday.
Vodafone said the sponsorship, which started in 2007 and was worth up to $75 million a year, was being ended following a review of marketing strategy.
“We’re immensely proud that, having been set a number of ambitious challenges by Vodafone back in 2007, together we’ve met or exceeded each and every one,” McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said in a statement released at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
“Our focus is on continuing to drive results for all our partners throughout the 2013 season and we look forward to making a major title partnership announcement towards the end of the year.”
British-based McLaren are one of Formula One’s most successful teams, winning 182 grands prix, 12 drivers’ championships and eight constructors’ championships in the 50 years since they were founded by New Zealander Bruce McLaren.
McLaren Group are 50 percent owned by Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat.
The team won the world title through Lewis Hamilton in 2008, the second year of the Vodafone deal, and have had another British world champion, Jenson Button, driving for them since 2010.
Hamilton, one of the most marketable drivers in Formula One, left McLaren at the end of last year to join the Mercedes team and is expected to be joined there by McLaren’s former technical director Paddy Lowe.
Lowe, a key figure who has been with McLaren for 19 years, is leaving at the end of the year in what has been seen as a blow for the Woking-based team.
Vodafone said it had decided to end the deal because it believed its brand no longer needed the reach and level of exposure that it gained through sponsoring McLaren.
In 2008 the company pulled the plug on its sponsorship of the English cricket team.
“We have been very happy with our engagement with McLaren,” Vodafone Chief Commercial Officer Morten Lundal said in a statement.
“Our relationship has been a key ingredient in bringing the Vodafone brand to where it is today. However, our brand is evolving, and we’ve concluded we will have less of a need for this kind of exposure in future.”
Hamilton has been replaced at McLaren by Mexican Sergio Perez, who has been sponsored through his motor racing career by the fixed-line phone giant Telmex owned by the world’s richest man Carlos Slim.
There was speculation in the media when 23-year-old Perez was signed from Sauber that his arrival could be a precursor to a sponsorship deal with Telmex or other Mexican companies.
Apart from a change of title sponsorship, with McLaren promising “an exciting announcement” on Dec. 2, there is uncertainty about the team’s future engine partner.
McLaren have said they will continue with Mercedes next season, when the current V8 engines are swept away and replaced with a turbocharged, 1.6-litre V6, but have dodged questions about a possible return of Honda in the years after that.
“We have a contract that covers the next three seasons at the moment and we will certainly go into next year with Mercedes-Benz,” Whitmarsh told reporters this week.
”We have read the stories about Porsche, Hyundai and Honda and I think they are to be encouraged,“ he added. ”The sport needs new automotive manufacturers to come in and if we can help that in any way, we will do so.
“But at the moment we are very focused on our partnership, which has been a very good partnership.”