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Formula One

Wednesday, July 16

Williams courts U.S. fans with Bud deal
Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Anheuser-Busch expanded its sponsorship in auto racing globally Wednesday by joining the Williams-BMW Formula One team.

The brewer is one of the giants of NASCAR, with its Budweiser brand sponsoring Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Winston Cup racing. It also sponsors the second-tier Busch series.

Now the Bud logo will be on the cars driven by Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya beginning with this weekend's British Grand Prix.

The deal runs through 2008 and is estimated to be worth about $80 million to the Williams team.

"Budweiser is one of the world's most admired and identifiable brands, and of course has an impressive history as a patron of motor racing,'' Sir Frank Williams said. "And we all know Formula One is not very well followed in the United States.

"I mention this because a partnership with Budweiser might give us a greater following in North America.''

But its the worldwide audience Budweiser is actually after, said Anheuser-Busch vice president Tony Ponturo. The company will begin advertising immediately, promoting Budweiser's with a "very high-end sophisticated image'' as an American import.

In becoming one of Williams' three main sponsors, Budweiser must amend their distinctive red and white color scheme to fit in with the predominantly blue and white traditional colors of the Williams cars.

"One thing we learned from the start is it's a blue and white car and we respected that tradition,'' Ponturo said. "We use the red paint scheme very dramatically in the U.S. ... so this is going to be a little different from what people have expected.''

The partnership between Budweiser and Williams can ultimately help Formula One expand its interest in North America.

In looking for F1 teams to sponsor, Budweiser smartly chose Williams, which already has U.S-based primary sponsor Hewlett-Packard. HP is the only current F1 sponsor to advertise in America with commercials featuring Schumacher and Montoya.

Plus, Montoya already has a strong U.S following from his short time in the CART series and his 2000 Indianapolis 500 title. Budweiser was Montoya's associate sponsor in that race.

Budweiser can also use the wildly popular Earnhardt in cross promotions.

"I've really become a big (F1) fan in the last couple of years, so I'm pumped to welcome Juan Pablo and Ralf as my newest teammates,'' Earnhardt said. "Now I know where I can get tickets if the calendar works out and those guys are welcome in our garage area anytime.''

Williams has also made no secret of his desire to attract more U.S-based companies to Formula One and widen the series' appeal in North America. F1 hasn't had an American driver since Michael Andretti in 1993 and there doesn't seem to be any young talent on the horizon.

Budweiser now has the power to help develop an American driver, something all the Formula One teams desire.

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