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Formula One new team name mocked as the worst in series history

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Jenson Button, so entrenched in his preparation for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, seemed to miss the news that Red Bull's junior Formula One team had been rebranded.

After climbing off the timing stand Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, he was asked his thoughts on the team known as AlphaTauri the last four years being renamed to Visa Cash App RB F1 — a moniker that has been widely panned by fans as the worst in F1 history.

“What is the new name?” he asked The Associated Press.

When the 2009 F1 champion and current Sky Sports commentator heard it, he tried to repeat.

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“Visa Cash App... what comes after that?” he asked. “So it is Visa. Cash App. RB. What?"

Don't worry, Jenson, nearly the entire industry and F1 fan base has wondered the same thing since Wednesday's rebranding.

Button has no idea what he'll call the team while commentating this year. “Exactly what we're told to call it,” was his best guess. But he had a rosier view of the rebrand than the swell of social media rage.

“People are talking about it, right?” he asked. “So that's good. It's obviously worked in getting people to talk about it.”

Perhaps, but the talk hasn't been flattering.

“Visa Cash App RB is the worst team name in Formula 1 history and is an embarrassment to Red Bull and Formula 1 as a whole,” wrote Edd Straw of The Race. “Not only does it sound fatuous, but it also showcases an avaricious lack of imagination that can only be spirit-sapping for those working for the team and signal to the hundreds of millions watching that this is not a competitor to be taken seriously.

"It’s hard to imagine (founder) Dietrich Mateschitz allowing this to happen were he still around, which is telling in itself given Red Bull was built on its astonishing capacity for imaginative marketing strategies.”

Straw was kind compared to many of the fans who flocked to social media to ridicule the name. One asked, “What's next? Will Max Verstappen race as Max EA Verstappen & Sergio Perez as Sergio Telmex Perez?”

The blatant corporatism is only one of the problems that has been highlighted in the new name of the team Red Bull launched as Scuderia Toro Rosso — the Italian translation of Red Bull — from its 2006 debut until 2020. Red Bull then put its clothing line, AlphaTauri, on the cars for four seasons but turned the naming rights over to Visa once the company signed on as title sponsor.

"I believe you will see more of these sponsorship entitlements coming into existence in the future," said Tom Legeman, a professor of Motorsports Marketing and Management at the University of Northwestern Ohio. “Look at stadium entitlements. They were unheard of 25 years ago, but now they are commonplace across multiple sports, and the dollar figures for these entitlements continue to rise.

“For the purist, they are going to hate the change. None of the older F1 fans wants Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren, Williams, and other icon F1 brands co-branded with a consumer product or service.”

Many fans have grumbled they are going to continue to call the team either Toro Rosso or AlphaTauri — or versions of “RB” or “Red Bull 2” or “Red Bull junior team" since “RB” is in the official team name.

Clay Hershaw, an associate professor of Motorsports Management at Winston-Salem State University, said he understood the reasoning behind the name as global brand Visa through F1 is attempting to assist Cash App increase its current footprint beyond the United States and United Kingdom. He said the new name is “cumbersome" and preferred one current suggestion floated of “VCARB.”

Legeman said if “the VCARB F1 acronym” sticks, it would help “make the positioning for the marketing relationships less cumbersome.”

Hershaw agreed with Button in that if people are talking about the team, it is typically good for business.

“It is working if we are talking about it. I think the ridicule is like being parodied on ‘Saturday Night Live,’” he said. “If you or your business is being parodied on ‘SNL,’ you are doing something worth talking about.”

Putting RB in the name also raises questions as to just how separate the junior team is actually operating from parent Red Bull, the three-time reigning champions. The junior team has claimed it has achieved full independence, but Visa's deal is with Red Bull Racing and its logos will be on the cars for Verstappen and Perez. The actual lengthy new team name will be on the cars driven by Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda, as well as the car the team enters in the all-female F1 Academy.

“The demographics for F1 fit Cash App perfectly; Visa has an aging demographic, and can use the partnership with Cash App to get in front of a younger audience,” Legeman said. "The hidden gem in all of this is going to be their new relationship with the F1 Academy — 52% of Cash App users are female. This gives both partners access to the Gen Z female demographic, which is the holy grail for marketers.

“A $20 million spend to be seen in front of 70-plus million F1 viewers in each of the 24 events (over 1.6 billion viewers a season) makes this sponsorship spend look as economical as web banner ad spends 10 to 15 years ago.”

Red Bull has received criticism from its rivals about its alliance with the junior team, and in adding “RB” to the name and including Visa across all the F1 properties, it makes it appear as if there really isn't much of a separation at all between the two. After all, it was Red Bull chief Helmut Marko who allegedly watched Ricciardo test for AlphaTauri earlier last summer and immediately called team principal Christian Horner to fire rookie Nyck de Vries for Ricciardo.

Now teams have an actual gripe to take to F1 and governing body FIA about the ties between the two teams as evidenced by this sponsorship deal. McLaren head Zak Brown went public with the issue in a December open letter to fans which stated the Red Bull relationship with its junior program is “not in the spirit of the regulations.”

“Most other major sports prohibit the ownership of two teams within the same league because of the obvious potential damage that it does to competition," Brown wrote. “It’s an unhealthy situation because it impacts decisions made both on and off the track. Whether it’s a case of having access to more data, sharing components/personnel, or even having influence over a strategic vote, it’s not in the spirit of the regulations."

“Part sharing of information, shared ownership models, and strategic alliances within the sporting fabric of Formula 1 will only serve to undermine the fans’ belief in fair and fierce competition,” Brown added.

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

Jenna Fryer, The Associated Press