Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone said it would be “a natural thing to do” for Emirates Airline to buy or launch an F1 team, especially in light of the Dubai airline’s 2006 sponsorship of the McLaren F1 team and its recent five-year sponsorship deal with the sport.
The Dubai airline on Tuesday announced a five-year sponsorship deal with Formula One – rumoured to be worth in the region of $200m – to become a global partner with the sport.
At the official signing of the deal at Emirates’ HQ in Dubai, Bernie Ecclestone, CEO of the Formula One group, endorsed the possibility of the Dubai airline launching its own F1 team.
“If they feel that they want to expand into that area… Emirates used to have a team long time ago with McLaren so if they decide to get back into that again then yes… I think it is quite a natural thing to do,” Ecclestone said of the possibility of an Emirates-branded F1 team.
Emirates was previously a major sponsor partner of the McLaren F1 team in 2006. The one-year-only deal was reportedly worth $25m and occurred when tobacco sponsor West dropped out and telco giant Vodafone was not due to start its deal until 2007.
When pressed on the issue, HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, chairman and CEO of Emirates Airline & Group was coy on the matter.
“I think we always like to be associated with the top sports and F1 is one of the top sports around the world,” he told Arabian Business on the sidelines of the F1 signing.
“What we did seven years ago was because there was a window and there was an opportunity for Emirates… It was good actually,” he added.
The latest five-year deal sees the airline join a host of big name F1 official sponsors including UBS, Rolex, Tata and LG.
When asked if he was in talks with any other Middle Eastern brands for potential sponsorship deals, Ecclestone said “the answer is yes,” but declined to reveal which brands they were or the status of talks.
Formula 1 Grand Prix races will be staged this year in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, but Ecclestone didn’t rule out a race being hosted in Emirates’ homeland of Dubai. “We have a couple of events in the region so we will have to wait and see… We have two in this area so it would probably be difficult to pop another one in,” he said.
The presence of a race in Abu Dhabi was not a direct hindrance, as Ecclestone confirmed Abu Dhabi does not have UAE exclusive rights to stage a race as part of its contract with the Formula One Group.
Currently, there are 19 races on the circuit and Ecclestone confirmed talks were currently taking place with Qatar for another race.