It all starts when the Williams F1 team announced that it was ending its partnership with sponsors ROKiT with immediate effect, although no specific reason was given at the time.
“I can’t go into detail on the ins and outs,” deputy team principal Claire Williams said about the split in May. “What I can say is that we met all of our contractual obligations to ROKiT.”
Reading between the lines it sounds a lot like ROKiT did not stump up the cash. The deal was to run until 2023 and was rumoured to be worth $25 million per year so Williams would not have walked away lightly.
ROKiT on the surface was happy with the exposure with Co-Founder Jonathan Kendrick telling Autosport, “I’m happy with my brand recognition and what it’s done for me. I sponsored the team to get my brand out there, and it’s got my brand out there big time, all over the world. It’s even better than I expected.”
Kendrick has long-standing ties with Sir Frank Williams going back to 1978 when he was a fresh-faced youngster working with Goodyear and was sent to South America to look after the Williams racing team.
At the age of 22, he set up his own business importing tyres from the then-unknown Yokohama tyres in which after establishing the brand he sold the company to Yokohama.
Subsequently making his fortune in financial services and the new mobile phones market he retired at the ripe old age of 41.
He like many a retired entrepreneur before him become bored, so he formed the Rok brand which stood for, ‘Return of Kendrick’ and joined forces with John Paul Jones DeJoria the billionaire and philanthropist best known as a co-founder of the Paul Mitchell line of hair products and The Patron Spirits Company.
Then last week the story broke that ROKiT was in talks to sponsor the Mercedes F1 team. Williams expressed outrage, “We are absolutely shocked that a team with whom we have worked so well for a long time, would make an agreement with a sponsor who knows what happened,” sources told Racefans.net this week.
The report added that Williams is considering legal action to block the deal and prevent the ROKiT name from appearing on the Silver Arrows as early as next week’s Austrian Grand prix.
Well, the saga has all the hallmarks of a Toto Wolff engineered deal.
Firstly, Toto Wolff said in February that making the team profitable was “exactly what we have as our target”, aiming to make funding the operation a “no-brainer” for parent company Daimler. So, another sponsor coming on board is exactly what Toto wants and needs.
Toto has links to ROKiT as they sponsor the Formula-E racing team Venturi racing whose team principal and shareholder is one Mrs. Susie Wolff.
Toto has been helping out with Venturi getting its engine, cooling system, rear frame, rear suspension, dampers, software, onboard electronics, and wiring looms from Mercedes. Brand exposure for ROKiT is enriched with the association to hopefully a successful Venturi team and is further boosted by the arrival of Mercedes joining the Formula-E series for the 2020 season.”
So, Kendrick knows he gets a bang for his buck when Toto is around.
Other teams to have tried to land the ROKiT sponsorship are Haas, Racing Point, and Ferrari. It must be a bit of Karma on Haas part as back in 2019 ROKiT thought they had a deal with Haas only for them to go with William Stoery and his Rich energy which of course ended in tears.
Toto has no doubt enjoyed getting one over on his friend Lawrence Stroll and Ferrari.
Toto clearly is not worried about upsetting Williams as according to F1 journalist Pete Windsor he has reacquired a five percent stake in the team, in what has been described as a ‘security’ investment.
It could be Kendrick believes the new owner of Williams will be Michael Latifi, father of Williams driver Nicholas and the recent financial saviour to the team. Latifi may have plans for the team that does not fit with ROKiT and as Kendrick’s loyalty lay with Sir Frank and not Latifi he simply jumped ship.
Williams has now unveiled their new livery with Sofina and Acronis taking the place of Rokit as the most prominent sponsors. Sofia foods are owned by Latifi and he has persuaded Nicholas personal sponsor Lavazza to sponsor the team with their logo now appearing on the engine cover. Latifi no doubt used the leverage of being the exclusive importer of Lavazza into Canada as a bargaining tool.
As an aside Toto needs to keep Lewis happy especially during upcoming negotiations so Lewis will no doubt approve of ROKiT as they sponsor his inspirational brother Nicholas last year driving in the British Touring Car Championships with ROKiT Racing at the Motorbase team and in 2020 moving to ROKiT Racing with Team HARD. Toto’s world can be a small one!
On a footnote: Maybe Toto is the real rocket man as he has just revealed to thisismoney.co.uk that he’s working on a deal that could put the Mercedes F1 team at the centre of a new space race, “Space is a very early-stage discussion,” reveals Wolff. ‘We are not going to build a rocket but we might provide services to somebody who wants to build a rocket.”