Aston Martin F1 deal 'improbable', says CEO

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 06, 2015 10:35 AM

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - Aston Martin have had plenty of approaches from Formula One teams wanting to bring the brand back to the sport but the chances of a deal are improbable at best, chief executive Andy Palmer told Reuters on Monday.

The former Nissan executive, who joined the classic British sportscar marque last year, recognized the rumor mill was running wild at Sunday's British Grand Prix but said there were substantial obstacles to any involvement.

"The bottom line is that it would be very difficult for us. We as a company don't have the kind of money to go into Formula One and make a decent job of it," he said in a telephone interview.

"Unless I thought we could be challenging Ferrari in some way, shape or form I just wouldn't contemplate doing it.

"The best I can tell you is that it's improbable. I never say never but it's improbable," added Palmer, who was a key figure in the deal that brought the Nissan-owned Infiniti brand to Red Bull as title partner.

Hit by aging models and weak investment, loss-making Aston Martin delivered 4,000 cars last year, well short of its 7,300 record in 2007. The company's main shareholders are private-equity groups, Investment Dar of Kuwait and Italy's Investindustrial.

The rumor mill was fired up by a report on Saturday that Aston Martin, who last competed in Formula One in 1960, were in talks with Red Bull about becoming a brand partner with Mercedes replacing Renault as engine supplier.

Mercedes have a five percent stake in Aston Martin, the car of choice for fictional British secret agent James Bond.

Niki Lauda, non-executive chairman of the Mercedes F1 team, dismissed the report as 'rubbish' while Red Bull principal Christian Horner said his team had contracts with Renault and Infiniti to the end of next year.

"Last week it was Ferrari, this week it's Aston Martin, next week who knows? What happens at the end of 2016 is purely speculative," the Briton, who drives an Aston Martin for personal use, told Reuters.


Palmer said he had connections around the paddock, including at Williams -- another proud British brand with Mercedes engines -- with whom Aston Martin are already involved on projects.

Red Bull technical head Adrian Newey is also helping Aston Martin with some aerodynamic work.

Palmer added that Aston Martin were committed to GT4, GT3 and GTE sportscar racing "and at this stage at least there is nothing else out there.

"I think most of the teams in the pit lane at one moment or other since I've been here in the last nine months have approached me in some way, shape or form," he added. "Not Ferrari or McLaren, for obvious reasons."

Palmer said that while the Infiniti deal with Red Bull had worked well for that luxury marque, Aston Martin did not have any problem with brand awareness.

"Everybody knows Aston Martin. I have a job to do in terms of getting us back into the conversation amongst people that cross-shop sportscars, be it McLaren, be it Ferrari or Porsche. I need to be in that conversation," he said.

"But to get into Formula One, that's serious money that I don't have."

Palmer watched Sunday's race at Silverstone with the Mercedes-powered Force India team, whose co-owner Vijay Mallya is also a fan of the marque.

"I invited him and I told him I want to go up and see the Aston Martin factory," the Indian told Reuters. "I'd love, actually, to buy one of their cars.

"All of us recognize it as a great marque with all of the sex appeal of James Bond and everything."

Mallya said no deal had been proposed with Aston Martin "but it could be quite interesting, actually. If it was an option, I'd certainly be very interested in discussing it."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)