LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One’s cost-cutting measures should secure Renault’s future in the sport despite the departure of title sponsor ING, team boss Flavio Briatore said Monday.
Dutch-based banking and insurance company ING, whose backing has provided a significant slice of the former world champions’ budget, announced earlier that they were pulling out of the sport at the end of the season.
“In light of the recently announced cost reduction program, ING confirmed today not to renew the three-year sponsorship (2007-2009) contract with Renault F1 and to end its presence in F1 beyond the 2009 season,” ING said in a statement.
The team said in a statement on their website (www.ing-renaultf1.com) that they completely understood ING’s decision.
“We have been aware for quite some time that the world’s current financial climate was calling for a restructuring of our sport and with FOTA (the Formula One Teams’ Association) we have moved in that direction,” said Briatore.
“Drastic cost reductions have been on FOTA’s agenda as one of the first priorities and with the ongoing program of measures we are confident we can guarantee a solid future for our team and for Formula One.”
ING were the largest sponsor on Renault’s books and, according to some estimates, ranked with global mobile phone company Vodafone as the second biggest-spenders in the sport after Philip Morris cigarette brand Marlboro.
A Formula Money report estimated that ING paid some $86 million into the sport last year with $65 million going to Renault. It said that sum represented more than half of the team’s total sponsorship revenues.
The Formula One teams have already agreed on significant cost cutting measures for 2009 but the International Automobile Federation (FIA) wants far more for 2010.
FIA President Max Mosley has said the sport faces its biggest crisis since at least the 1960s and wants to change the rules to enable teams to compete for little more than 50 million euros per season.
The fear is that without dramatic cost cuts, more manufacturer teams such as Renault or Toyota will leave an already-depleted starting grid.
Honda, who spent an estimated $300 million for very little gain last year, announced in December they were pulling out in the face of the global credit crunch that has savaged the global car industry.
If that team does not find a rescuer in the coming week or two, Formula One will start the season with just nine teams and three empty slots.
ING’s departure is also likely to impact on the sport’s overall revenues.
As well as backing Renault, who have Spain’s 2005 and 2006 world champion Fernando Alonso as their main driver, the group have been heavily involved in trackside advertising.
They are the official sponsors of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 29 as well as those in Belgium, Hungary and Turkey.
In addition, the financial group had on-track branding at 13 of last season’s 18 races.
The group announced last month that they would cut operating expenses by 1 billion euros ($1.29 billion) in 2009 as well as scrapping 7,000 jobs worldwide out of a total 130,000.
Editing by Justin Palmer and Pritha Sarkar