THE WORLD’S richest man, Carlos Slim, is at the centre of renewed speculation that his company, Telmex, may sponsor McLaren, after Vodafone opted not to renew its deal with the British Formula One team.
Telecommunications giant Telmex has long-standing links with Mexican driver Sergio Perez, who has replaced former world champion Lewis Hamilton at the Woking-based outfit for the new season, which starts this weekend.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh admitted to talks with Slim, who is worth an estimated £49bn, before signing Perez last year but insisted the driver’s arrival was not linked to future funding.
Perez arrived at Sauber after Telmex sponsored the Swiss team, however, and Whitmarsh said that while it was not “the motivating force”, his signing could lead to “fresh partners coming forward”.
Confirmation of Vodafone’s exit at the end of this season came just hours before this morning’s first practice session at the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix.
The British-based group, the world’s second largest mobile phone company, is thought to have paid between £40m and £50m a year to sponsor McLaren since 2007.
Vodafone enjoyed early success when Hamilton became the sport’s youngest ever world champion in 2008, but the team’s fortunes have since slipped behind dominant Red Bull and giants Ferrari.
“Our relationship with McLaren has been a key ingredient in bringing the Vodafone brand to where it is today,” said Morten Lundal, chief commercial officer of Vodafone, which opted not to renew deals with the England cricket team in 2008 and Manchester United in 2005. “However, our brand is evolving, and we’ve concluded we will have less of a need for this kind of exposure in future.”
Hamilton’s defection to Mercedes ended the Englishman’s 14-year association with McLaren, while the team’s technical director, Paddy Lowe, is set to follow him next year.