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Why RB believes F1 team name debate is a “good problem to have”

We’re supposed to call the outfit that fields the cars the Visa Cash App RB F1 Team, although the company behind it – as seen for example in the email addresses of employees – is officially known as Racing Bulls.

Fans and media have got used to teams changing names over the years. It’s easy to forget that Red Bull was once Stewart, Mercedes was born as BAR (while using the former Tyrrell entry), and Aston Martin used to be Jordan before landing on what is now its fifth identity following Midland, Spyker, Force India and Racing Point.

Likewise, the team which started life in Faenza as Minardi was known as Toro Rosso and AlphaTauri before the latest incarnation emerged.

However, arguably no name change has received as much pushback from fans and media alike as the move to Visa Cash App RB, with some folk believing that the team has sold its soul and left itself with an anonymous identity that will mean little when those sponsors eventually move on.

It also strikes a chord at a time when the F1 organisation has cast doubts on the value that the Andretti-Cadillac combination can bring to the series.

The change has its roots in an internal Red Bull decision to end the sponsorship from subsidiary AlphaTauri which had given the team its name for four seasons.

New CEO Peter Bayer stressed that he didn’t want to be tied to a partner name and instead wanted something generic that would stand the test of time, and to which sponsors could be attached.

There was no desire to go back to Toro Rosso, regardless of the heritage of the team that brought on the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz and current driver Ricciardo. Instead, the unimaginative name Racing Bulls emerged as an alternative.

Yuki Tsunoda, RB VCARB 01

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Meanwhile the team’s marketing folk, with some help from the wider Red Bull organisation, landed two major US-based partners from the financial sector.

The representatives of Visa and Cash App met each other at the Las Vegas GP and discussed how they could best work together and leverage their joint sponsorship of the team.

Somewhere along the way, the Racing Bulls name was pushed into the background and the RB shorthand was adopted instead, with the sponsors’ names in front of it. The VCARB acronym was created as an alternative moniker and given some official recognition as the type ‘number’ of the car.

It’s standard practice for sponsors to be attached to team names, with Oracle, Moneygram, Petronas and Aramco a few examples from the current grid. However, in day-to-day usage, fans and media alike focus on the established chassis names.

After five years of hiding its traditional identity behind the Alfa Romeo name, Sauber is officially back this year. While the team wants us to routinely use Stake, the fact that Sauber is part of both its full name and that of the car means that most folk will stick with that.

However, some fans and media reckon the Italian team has gone a step too far by using the anonymous RB initials and putting so much emphasis on its two new sponsors.

The irony is that, while attempting to create a new identity, it has come up with a livery that owes much to the latter Toro Rosso years, which only adds to a confusing message.

Carlos Sainz Jr., Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

“In terms of the team rebranding, I think that was a complex exercise that involved many stakeholders,” says Bayer. “But ultimately, we are very happy, because we had the amazing problem of having Visa and Cash App and Red Bull supporting us and saying we want to take this team to the next level. And so they’ve been joining us on this journey.

“And so that’s also partly the reason for the name, which is a bit of a mouthful. But at the same time it’s the reality: it’s Visa, it’s Cash App, and it’s Red Bull that supporting us as Racing Bulls, a company in Italy.

“What we’ve seen with fans is that yes, there was confusion, but they quickly picked it up. And we see a lot of people, especially on the younger side, calling us Visa Cash App RB, and it comes out quite easily. There is VCARB outside, and there is our company name, which is Racing Bulls. So I guess at the moment, we’re focusing on the car, and we’ll see where we end up with the name.”

Had Racing Bulls officially been adopted as part of the team identity, the likelihood is that it would have been embraced. So why did it disappear?

“I think maybe to go back in history, the Racing Bulls name is actually part of the Red Bull philosophy,” replies Bayer. “They have the Flying Bulls where Mr [Dietrich] Mateschitz had his planes. And that seems to be like a logical consequence.

“And Racing Bulls is our company name in Italy. We’ve been discussing the different options, but we just felt that it’s a bit of a mouthful. If you imagine the Visa Cash App Racing Bulls Formula 1 team, you’ll be tired at the end of writing the article!

Yuki Tsunoda, RB VCARB 01

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

“So that was really where the idea came from to abbreviate Racing Bulls into RB. And to put that as a chassis name that simply remains as a sort of historic element that we want to carry forward if the partnership is going to change.”

He adds: “Those of you who have children maybe had to choose a name for the kids. And then you will have a lot of people telling you, ‘Oh my god, how could you possibly come up with that name’, and other people say, ‘That’s a fantastic name!'”

If going for RB rather than Racing Bulls was part of a concerted effort to focus people’s attention on the sponsors, it remains to be seen how successful it will be.

As with Stake/Sauber, there is likely to be an ongoing stand-off between the media and the teams concerned about using the full sponsor version.

“It’s something that we are trying to embrace, really, as a challenge,” says Bayer. “I think we are realistic enough that we cannot expect the media to continuously say Visa Cash App RB. But it’s also one way of opening ourselves as a team to try and get these partners on board.

“And I think – especially when they see the car on track, when they see the livery, when they see the exposure – that it’s creating a package. We need sponsors to make this work, because it’s a reality as well.

“We get support from the shareholders, we get money from F1. But it’s not enough to hit the cap, and ultimately, the cap is defining the competition. So how to close that gap? Well, yes, we have to sell our inventory.

“And we don’t think it’s a bad thing. I know it might be controversial, because it’s obviously easier to be Ferrari than RB, but mid-term, we believe that the RB Racing Bulls element is strong enough to cope with a strong commercial partner integration.”

Daniel Ricciardo, RB VCARB 01

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Historically, the team struggled to land major sponsors, and in the AlphaTauri years there wasn’t much opportunity to incorporate a major presence from another brand. Now that the opportunity is there, it has been seized.

There’s a bigger picture than just the name. Much like Sauber with Stake/Kick’s ties to musicians and influencers, RB is trying to create a new image and appeal to a younger demographic.

The car launch was the perfect demonstration of what the team wants to do. A traditional Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri unveiling involved the car being pushed into the pitlane an hour before the start of the first test and former boss Franz Tost making a little speech for the cameras.

This time it was a huge, glitzy event in Las Vegas during the build-up to the Super Bowl, with 2,500 people present and the needs of the traditional motorsport media largely overlooked.

“Probably one of the main discussions we had with our partners was that we believe there is a small niche in the paddock,” says Bayer, “which is aiming at that whole new audience, which we are reaching out to through social media, and which is a younger audience.

“And so we believe that by adding what probably is that original Red Bull spirit, reinforcing that in this team, adding a bit of music – and if you look at the car launch, I think that that’s a bit of an example of what we think the storytelling of this team will look like.

Peter Bayer, CEO Racing Bulls, Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo, Racing Bulls, Laurent Mekies, Team Principal Racing Bulls

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

“It’s about racing, obviously, and we want to be very serious and focus on the racing. But at the same time, we want this team to have some entertainment, we want to democratise the sport through the partnerships by inviting fans who cannot come to the race track, because maybe it’s not affordable or it’s sold out.

“To add events in the city centre, for example, we’re having a couple of ideas for the US events which will again feature big music acts. So that combination of on-track performance combined with off-track entertainment and that Red Bull spirit is what we want to give to the fans.”

Thanks to the health of F1, and sparked in part by Ricciardo’s high profile, the team has been able to take this new direction, and the bottom line is that it’s better to have people grumbling about the ubiquity of your title sponsors than not to have any.

“It’s a fantastic problem to have,” says new team principal Laurent Mekies. “A few years ago, we would have been dreaming about having Visa or Cash App in the sport. We were dying to find this sort of global company to think our sport was the right platform to invest.

“Then they come to F1, they choose us. Once you are there, you have already ticked quite a lot of boxes.

“It’s a very, very good problem to have. It gives us a lot more responsibilities. And yes, it gives us some challenges in how to get the whole thing together. But what a nice position to be in!”

Daniel Ricciardo, RB VCARB 01

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

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