Ecclestone steals McLaren sponsor (2nd Update)

UPDATE #2 (GMM) McLaren has hit back at reports it is set to lose Johnnie Walker as a sponsor.

The Mirror's Byron Young reported from Singapore on Sunday that, with Bernie Ecclestone securing the whisky brand as a new F1 sponsor, Johnnie Walker will now depart the beleaguered British grandee.

But McLaren has told us the report in the major British tabloid was incorrect, as "Johnnie Walker remains an important and valued sponsor of McLaren".

A team spokesman said the newspaper simply got the story "wrong".

"Yes, Johnnie Walker will be one of the sponsor logos on our 2015 car," he confirmed.

09/21/14 McLaren "suffered a crippling" $253M sponsorship blow, according to Byron Young of the London DAILY MIRROR. F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone "walked away with the massive Johnnie Walker deal" it had hoped to land. The former champions "had been searching for a new title sponsor for over 18 months to replace Vodafone."

Instead of expanding its McLaren backing, Johnnie Walker owner Diageo "decided to become the sport’s official whisky." The decision "will come as another embarrassment" for McLaren Exec Chair Ron Dennis who has refused to cut his rate card despite the recession. And it is "a second significant blow after Hugo Boss ended one of the sports longest lasting sponsorships earlier this year to join Mercedes" Daily Mirror

09/21/14 (GMM) McLaren has reportedly suffered yet another sponsorship blow.

On the eve of the Singapore grand prix, Bernie Ecclestone unveiled whisky brand Johnnie Walker as a new official sponsor for the sport.

Speed Week asked the F1 supremo how he always manages to collect top backers, while the teams themselves are struggling commercially.

"The teams also have great sponsors," the 83-year-old Briton insisted.

"Johnnie Walker has sponsored one of the teams," Ecclestone.

He was, of course, referring to McLaren, the British grandee team that in the wake of Vodafone's departure has failed to sign a new title sponsor in 2014.

Not only that, amid McLaren's performance slump, long-time sponsor Hugo Boss jumped ship to Mercedes.

And now, according to the Mirror newspaper, McLaren is losing Johnnie Walker as well.

Correspondent Byron Young said that as the drink brand's parent Diageo signs up with Ecclestone, its withdrawal of the McLaren deal is a "crippling blow" for the Woking based team.

"The decision will come as another embarrassment for boss Ron Dennis who has refused to cut his rate card despite the recession," said Young.

Ironically for McLaren veteran Jenson Button, however, the financial struggles in F1 could now be his best chance to stay on the grid beyond 2014.

If the pitlane drops below ten teams, Ecclestone will ask the richer teams to bolster numbers by running third cars.

But Button said he would prefer if his talks with Dennis result in a new deal on its own merit.

"I talk to Ron a lot. It's all moving along fine," he said in Singapore. "I'm not scared of anything.

"I would rather not have to think about the only way I have a career next year is with a three car team. I like F1 the way it is."

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