The news that Lewis Hamilton is courting a £10m sponsorship deal with Reebok is interesting not because of the amount of money involved, but because of what it says about his relationship with McLaren.
When people started talking about the immense marketing potential of F1′s first successful mixed-race driver F1 fans were quick to note that McLaren may stop him from maximising that value.
McLaren generally do not allow their drivers to arrange personal sponsorship deal (nor do many of the other top teams, it seems) but an exception is being made for Hamilton just as it was for his hero Ayrton Senna when he joined the team 20 years ago.
Senna was allowed to bring personal sponsorship from Brazilian bank Nacional with him (see picture below). Hamilton and father/manager Anthony apparently have negotiated the same exemption from McLaren’s usual rules on driver personal sponsorship that Senna had.
Football fans are familiar with players who become bigger than their clubs – David Beckham at Manchester United being an example. Is this a sign Hamilton is going down the same route?
According to The Times, Hamilton’s annual earnings now exceed Beckham’s, making him the highest-paid British sportsperson, and may be bolstered in the near future by another deal with Pepsi. The rights to his autobiography were sold last year for a reported £2m and both the hardback and paperback are among the top ten F1 books on Amazon (even though it’s rubbish).
McLaren must be wary of the phenomenon of the driver becoming bigger than the team. Even with a driver of Senna’s genius, indulging it at the team’s expense ended up compromising the outfit. By 1993 McLaren had lost their works Honda engine deal and the cost of meeting Senna’s salary demands plus paying for engines ate into the budget for car development. After Senna left it was four years before the team won another Grand Prix.
Ironically the announcement comes mere days after a Hamilton was ridiculed in the press for a truly awful public relations stunt for McLaren principal sponsor Vodafone, in which he appeared in a stage production of Troy. His Reebok contract better rule out further such nonsense with fellow ‘brand ambassadors’ Thierry Henry, Amir Khan, 50 Cent and Jay-Z.
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