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How F1’s popularity boom is attracting corporate sponsors to F2

With Formula 1’s popularity having boomed in recent years, F2 is also seeing the benefits, with more corporate sponsors attracted to the series and its teams. Invicta Watch Group and Virtuosi Racing’s new title partnership is a sign of things to come

Jack Doohan (AUS, Invicta Virtuosi Racing) leads Jehan Daruvala (IND, MP Motorsport) and Frederik Vesti (DNK, Prema Racing)

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The 2023 F2 season saw Invicta Watch Group and F2 team Virtuosi Racing team up for a multi-year title sponsorship deal, renaming the outfit Invicta Virtuosi Racing and establishing a new working relationship between the parties.

Invicta, an American watch company, has a history of working with iconic sports brands, including a collaboration with basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, but the Virtuosi deal is its first title sponsorship deal.

The relationship also sees Invicta’s presence in motorsport continue to grow following its partnership with F2 driver Juan Manuel Correa, who is a brand ambassador.

The deal sees the brand link up with the long-time junior series stalwarts, led by founders Andy Roche, Paul Devlin and Declan Lohan, who are running Alpine Academy junior Jack Doohan and Amaury Cordeel in the 2023 season.

The partnership marks an exciting new chapter for both brands, but what was it which attracted Invicta to an F2 team?

CEO Eyal Lalo told Autosport that motorsport has always been “a key vision and lifestyle that the brand has always had,” but previous attempts to enter F1 had proven to be too costly for the benefits received.

Looking for a more expansive and flexible strategy, he turned to the junior series, where he saw “a great void in that industry right now when it comes to consumer brands connected with F2.”

“I think we're the first, I feel that we're a pioneer in having a vision that is very distinctive to what everybody else is looking at,” he said. “F2 to me looks like still a stepping stone to the world of F1 and that's how it is, and I'm referring to F2 and F3. I personally had a chance to visit a lot of F2 races and seeing how little the marketing is done, the appreciation to the sport is received within the consumers.

“When you look at an F2 team, they're just focused on the mechanics and the performance and what drivers they put in there, but nobody's looking at the fact that there's an actual clean slate of marketing that can be done because they are racing on the same track, on the same weekend as F1.

Jack Doohan, Invicta Virtuosi Racing, 2nd position, on the podium

Jack Doohan, Invicta Virtuosi Racing, 2nd position, on the podium

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

“[Fans] just want to be in that atmosphere and feel connected to something that I guess it's very cool and very attractive today.”

Lalo said “the beauty” of linking up with an F2 team allowed them to “bring something new to the table” and “allow us to have a little bit more not only exposure, but control and look and feel and having everything that surrounds the race,” rather than just paying for on-car branding.

Speaking about Virtuosi, Lalo says he was drawn to a “winning team with a great history,” adding: “They are set up to be a championship team, which is critical to us. We’re not there just to hang out and do marketing, we want to do marketing on a first-class team.

“Knowing the history of the three owners there and the knowledge that they have and how well respected they are within the industry, that to me was critical.”

A winning team it is, with Virtuosi having 15 F2 race wins to its name and finishing as runners-up in the teams’ standings in 2019, 2020 and 2021. It was with the team that Alfa Romeo F1 driver Zhou Guanyu finished third in 2021, while IndyCar driver Callum Ilott was runner-up the previous year.

From the team’s perspective, linking up with a watch brand made sense, given motorsport’s intrinsic link with time, while an American brand was also a draw given F1’s recent surge in popularity across the pond. It is not Virtuosi’s first big partnership, having previously run the Russian Time team in F2 and its predecessor GP2 from 2015-2018 before fully taking it on.

Lohan said: “Invicta approached us. In the last 12 months, we've had other companies as well approaching us from America for sponsorship. And we feel that ever since Liberty has taken over F1, with Drive to Survive and Chasing The Dream, that it's getting more acknowledged worldwide, and the American market seems to be getting a lot bigger.

“So Invicta, what we liked was the watch brand, we like the people – we really got on well with them, myself, Andy Roche and Paul Devlin. We liked the idea of time, because racing is a time thing, and we love that idea of the link between the two.

“And we felt that the following that Invicta have, they have a big following, and customers throughout the world, and now mainly in Europe as well. They can give us a bigger following in America and we give them more exposure in Europe. So that was why we chose to work with them, and we're excited for moving forward.”

Amaury Cordeel, Invicta Virtuosi Racing

Amaury Cordeel, Invicta Virtuosi Racing

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Lohan agreed with Lalo’s comments about F2 as a more attractive proposition for sponsors, with added flexibility providing greater returns at a lower cost than the millions involved in F1.

He too has seen the benefits which F1’s boom has brought to F2, finding it easier to sign drivers earlier in the previous season, rather than scrabbling to put them in the car for post-season testing in November.

“I don't know much about what it costs to advertise or to put a sticker on an F1 car, and I’m sure the worse the team back along the grid, the cheaper it probably is, but that would still be probably millions,” he said.

“So we're hoping over the next couple of years to be giving Eyal more exposure on the cars, and Invicta Watch Company. As we move on, we're just doing the race truck now, and we’re finishing off the boards for the garages and stuff like that, which will have the Invicta watches on them, they’re looking really, really good.

“For Eyal, he can bring some clients along on the race weekend and get more into detail of the car and be more hands on than he probably would if he had an F1 sponsorship. I think in the long run, it'll be a lot more beneficial to him, because I think a lot of people are beginning to find the F2 races more exciting than the F1 races.

“They're the same engine, it's down to the tyres, the driver, the engineering of the car. So I think people are beginning to think actually, a driver could be last and still win and be on the podium, whereas F1 is a bit more like the top ones are always the same, and they'll always be on the podium.”

Invicta is hoping to build further on its work with the team this season, aiming to roll out a hospitality programme in a bid to “elevate the brand value and the experience that the fans have when they come to races”.

Though the deal is in its early stages, both parties have already seen the benefits, and it surely won’t be long until other teams follow suit.

Invicta Virtuosi garage

Invicta Virtuosi garage

Photo by: Invicta Virtuosi Racing

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