- Infiniti's Andreas Sigl Q&A
'Being a simple sponsor is like paying for sex'Laurence Edmondson November 13, 2013
Infiniti's global F1 director Andreas Sigl explains to ESPN why his company's involvement with Red Bull is about more than just "fast stickers"
Since Infiniti took on the title sponsorship of Red Bull this year, what's changed in the relationship with Red Bull both on the commercial side and how you are working with them?
Firstly this is a partnership, not sponsorship, because I really believe it is much more of a two-way street. I always say being a simple sponsor is like paying for sex and I believe we as a partner bring more. You see the regulations are getting more complicated next year, and a rather small to mid-size factory like Red Bull's can barely spin two plates with RB9 and RB10, and with everything else coming in we believe we can bring the technology side. We have a longer commitment now with the partnership, which means when we start something we can actually see it through rather than working on a year-by-year basis. That's what we get excited about, because we won't build a brand overnight. But after sniffing each other out for two years, it's almost been like two years of dating and now we've got married. We've really stepped up and I think we've learned to find a good way of working with each other.
So to be more specific, is Infiniti involved in the production of actual car parts for the Red Bull or is it more about helping with the way the factory works?
We really try to think of it in a more holistic manner. We have opened our large toolbox of people, processes and technology, so if there is anything the team would like - if it's either Christian [Horner] or Adrian [Newey] - they are free to help themselves. There are certain things we believe are obvious, be it regenerative braking, hybrid technology, battery technology... There are other things that are less obvious, and you may have Adrian picking something and saying 'I'm interested in scratch-shield paint' and we wonder why he would be interested in that because it seems like a cosmetic benefit, but he's interested in it for its aerodynamic properties. Or there is light-weight magnesium which we have and the team is now using. Sometimes it's technology and sometimes it's people. We have placed some of our Japanese electrical engineers in the Red Bull factory for the last two years to help on future hybrid technology.
Sometimes it's processes or facilities, like our testing centre in Cranfield where the team recently tested pit stop equipment under extreme heat and sun conditions in our climate chamber. We try to look at the full picture, not just certain technology on the car. On the flipside, of course, we make road cars so we look at how the team can help us with their knowledge of packaging, lightweight carbon fibre, aerodynamics and of course the driver. We should not underestimate the relationship with Sebastian [Vettel] as director of performance, where he can help us set-up cars and articulate performance in a way we haven't really done before.
Is there an issue with having Infiniti on the outside of the car but a Renault engine inside? Okay, Infiniti is owned by the Renault-Nissan Alliance, but is there not a risk of mixed messages when both brands are trying to promote their importance within the team?
We wouldn't have done it if we thought it was an issue. We had the option from the beginning to re-badge the engines, and of course there were discussions early on, but we said it wouldn't be genuine if we were to just put a sticker on top. People would look through this and say 'yesterday it was a Renault engine and now it's an Infiniti engine'. If we do something we want it to be a genuine contribution. If you look at next year it's going to be a little bit more complicated because the internal combustion engine alone does not make the power-unit. You have different components coming together, including regenerative braking, energy management and battery storage. So we believe we bring the technology that we do best and that the team needs, and then we work on this together. But we don't see the conflict and we work behind the scenes within our lines anyway, so we can live with this. If we want to do it, we will do it in a genuine way. Otherwise it'll be fake.
So the option to re-badge the engines, would that have been another step up on the partnership you currently have?
We had that discussion back in 2010 when we joined for the first season in 2011. But firstly we have to keep in mind that our main objective is to build global brand awareness and the second is to work on the opinion that we bring more than just fast stickers. I think through our technical partnership now and our relationship with Sebastian there is plenty of work we can do, both that we can deliver and the team can appreciate.
Next year the Energy Recovery Systems are even more integrated with the engine, so how closely are you able to work with Renault?
It's on both sides, we have engineers here implanted in Red Bull and we have regular meetings with our colleagues at the Infiniti technical centre in Cranfield - that's a monthly ongoing meeting on different technologies. Of course we work very closely with our Renault colleagues. I think the question is then how it all comes together and how the packaging works, and I think what's interesting for us is that the regulations are going from downsizing V8s into V6 turbos and the same thing is happening for us on the road car side. We are now getting into V6 engines and turbos and we are already into hybrids and supercharged cars. There's some things we can learn but at the end of the day it's the team [Red Bull] that pulls us together.
Are there any future plans for your road cars to be developed by the F1 team? I know there is the Sebastian Vettel-edition 4x4, but is there a plan to develop something that is much more performance orientated?
We started on the very first day of getting Sebastian on board to make one of our existing cars better, which is the Vettel FX. Through this I think we learned a lot, including that Sebastian wants to do this kind of work assuming its proper and genuine - he wouldn't just put his name or sticker on it. We realised that he is so good in giving us feedback that all of the road cars can be better packaged and articulated through his input. So we've done this now with the Q50, which is just launching as we speak, and we brought him more upstream in the development process when the car was not finished. We are now doing this with the Q30, which is even two years further away, so on the road car side I think it is already happening.
The other question that you are asking is about the performance car side, which we are missing in our portfolio and it's an obvious place that we believe we need and want to play in. There is interest from the team to help us study what can be done and also from Sebastian - that's when his eyes light up. We've started already to get him into that space and get him benchmarking products and get him comfortable in the segment rather than comparing it to an F1 car. So yes, there is interest and yes we study that space because we believe it is an obvious stepping stone to close the gap between the F1 cars on track and our product portfolio. There's enough interest and momentum that we are seriously looking at, so hopefully the next time I see you we can show you something and tell you more.
Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1