The Alfa Romeo will kickstart its 2024 campaign with a new name and hopefully stay on track. Photo / Don Kennedy
Change for change’s sake has never been a popular concept.
There are a number of quotes about change, especially by several influential people. The founder of the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford famously said: “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said ‘Don’t change anything’.”
Sydney J. Harris, a prominent American journalist, albeit born in London, began working for the Chicago Daily Times in 1934, aged 17. He spoke of the dilemma for people when it comes to change.
“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better,” Harris is quoted as saying.
Formula One has seen lots of changes since it became a world championship in 1950, but some things , has kept their names, like the team that has been in F1 since its conception, Ferrari. Ferrari was created by Enzo Ferrari and the team holds the record for the most constructor’s titles, with 16 championships and 15 driver’s championships.
Mercedes, which first entered F1 as a brand in 1954 as Mercedes-Benz and won the championship in 1954 and 1955. But Mercedes-Benz as a team name disappeared after 1955 because of the 1955 Le Mans disaster, when a Mercedes-Benz car driven by Pierre Levegh collided with another car and was launched into the air over the barrier and into the spectator area, killing 83 spectators and the driver. The team withdrew from motor racing as a response to the tragedy.
But Mercedes returned to F1 as an engine manufacturer in 1994 and won one constructor’s titles and three driver’s titles with McLaren. In 2010, the company bought the Brawn team Ross Brawn had won the 2009 Constructor’s title with and also made Jenson Button a world champion. The rest is history, as Mercedes won six driver’s titles with Lewis Hamilton after 2014, and eight Constructor’s titles.
The Mercedes brand, like Ferrari, seems set to remain. The same also seems to be true about McLaren, named after team founder, the late Kiwi Bruce McLaren, who was tragically killed testing a CanAm car in 1970.
Although McLaren’s family no longer has any financial interest in the team based at Woking in England, the name McLaren, and an emblem that resembles a kiwi, remain on the car.
Williams Racing, the team that the late Sir Frank Williams entered F1 with in 1977 and the second-winningest constructor with nine titles and seven driver’s championships, is no longer owned by the Williams family, but the name has been preserved. Sadly, the Brabham team, founded in 1960 by three-time world champion Sir Jack Brabham, had its final race in 1992 in Hungary, with Damon Hill as the driver. World champions like John Surtees and Alain Prost joined the likes of Brabham and McLaren in owning F1 teams bearing their names, but with no real success.
The most successful team of recent times is Red Bull, who have won the last two Constructors titles and given Max Verstappen three consecutive driver’s titles. Red Bull Racing first entered F1 in 2004 and won both championships for four consecutive years from 2010 to 2013, with driver Sebastian Vettel becoming a four-time world champion.
Hamilton was driving for McLaren when Red Bull first won the championship and in 2011 said it was “a drinks company”.
“Red Bull are not a manufacturer, they are a drinks company,” he said at that time.
“It’s a drinks company versus McLaren, Ferrari history.”
In 2022 he admitted he was wrong to use the drinks company reference.
“Anything I would’ve said in the past about the team, I didn’t mean it in a negative way. I think years ago I said something about them being a drinks company – or something like that. And I was really just highlighting that you would bet on a car manufacturer more so, but they’ve proved me wrong and everyone. And they’ve done a great job.”
The sister team to Red Bull is the outfit founded in 2005 as Toro Rosso, which is Italian for Red Bull and was also owned by the late Red Bull magnate Dietrich Mateschitz. He bought the team off Australian Paul Stoddart, who had raced the team as Minardi, and the name was changed to Toro Rosso in 2006.
Under that name, the car won the 2008 Italian GP in the hands of Vettel. In 2020, the team name changed to Alpha Tauri, the name of the Red Bull company’s fashion brand.
In 2020, Pierre Gasly won the Italian GP for the team, repeating what Vettel had done in 2008. The team’s drivers are now Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo. When the latter was injured last year, the Aussie was replaced for five races by Kiwi driver Liam Lawson, who almost stole the show. His F1 debut on a very wet Zandvoort circuit was applauded up and down the pit lane, and more so in Singapore, where he knocked Verstappen out of Q3 and then finished ninth in the race, to score two points. Unfortunately for him, the team decided to stick with their current drivers, so Lawson, despite the widespread praise, will have to settle for being a Red Bull reserve driver again in 2024, but hopefully will make the grid fulltime in 2025.
It had been signalled towards the end of last season that a change of name was imminent for Alpha Tauri, with a new sponsor coming on board. A couple of weeks ago the Alfa Romeo team, which had formerly been the Sauber team, changed its name to the Stake F! Team Kick SauberF1 team, given its title sponsor is now Stake, which is a crypto casino and sports betting platform. Commentators will likely call it the Stake team, except when races are in countries that ban gambling, it which case it will be Kick F1, the name that appeared on the rear wing and bodywork of the car in 2023.
Compared to Alfa Romeo, or even Sauber itself, either Stake or Kick are hardly spine-tingling names that portray visions of a fast-moving race car or reflect the history of the sport – or even the team itself.
Sponsors are of course essential in any professional sport these days and F1 in particular, given the hundreds of millions required to fund a team. But while the new sponsor will have a stake in the team, you can bet, pun intended, the new name won’t have fans of the team dancing in the aisles, unless they are in a casino of course and have had a big win.
If there were sideways glances about Alfa Romeo’s new brand, there will be downright outrageous glares of disbelief from Alpha Tauri fans, who have learned their favourite team will now be called Visa Cash App RB. When Button, who was racing in the 24-hour Daytona race, was asked what he thought of the team’s new name, he said he hadn’t heard about it.
“What is the new name?” Button asked. When told, he struggled to repeat it.
“Visa Cash App… what comes after that?” he asked.” So, it is Visa. Cash App RB. What?” he reportedly said.
“People are talking about it, right?’ he continued. “So that’s good. It’s obviously working in getting people to talk about it.”
Button’s response confirms the view that even though it’s not always positive to be talked about, while they are doing so, they are not talking about anyone else.
Renowned F1 journalist Edd Straw wrote: “Visa Cash App RB is the worst team name in Formula One history and is an embarrassment to Red Bull and Formula 1 as a whole.”
It is easy to agree with him. It’s a name that sadly reflects the modern tendency to rename iconic stadiums and venues after sponsors. Craig Slater, a Sky sports reporter, has been quoted as suggesting there will be plays on the word “visa” during race commentaries, with the cars either in “visa debit or credit”, depending on whether they are going forward or backwards in position during a race, or saying “visa contactless” if they have a season without a crash. From reports in the media, it seems the team name has already been abbreviated to Vcarb.
Names like Stake and Visa emphasis the importance of money in the F1 world, and the trend will continue. Haas may have been last in the 2023 championship, but at least the team name reflects the name of the team owner, and in that respect he joins Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren, and Williams as teams with an identifiable and iconic name. You can add Aston Martin to that list, the team sounds like an F1 team carrying a brand with significant motor racing history. The sooner that F1 allows Andretti to join the F1 grid, the better for the sport, although officially it will be Andretti-Cadillac if F1 lets them in for 2025. Arguably, purists would rather hear the name Andretti than Stake, Kick or Visa Cash App. What’s in a name? Plenty when you analyse it.