Brazilian govt claims £163m McLaren-Petrobras deal terminated

McLaren in action at the Russian Grand Prix

Brazil’s government has claimed the deal between Petrobras and McLaren has been brought to a conclusion, though the Formula 1 team has yet to communicate an official split.

It was announced in early 2018 that Petrobras and McLaren had signed a deal for the company to become the team’s fuel and lubricants supplier from 2019.

Petrobras is majority owned – 64 per cent – by the Brazilian government, which oversaw a change in office after the election of Jair Bolsonaro in October 2018.

Bolsonaro, who took up the role of the country's President in January, took to social media in May to outline that he was seeking a way for Petrobras to extricate itself from the McLaren deal.

“In 2018, Petrobras signed an advertising contract of R$782 million with McLaren, valid for five years,” he tweeted at the time.

“At the moment, the company, by decision of my government, seeks a way to terminate the contract.”

This week a government report was published outlining the economic development through the first nine months of Bolsonaro’s tenure, which included analysis of Petrobras.

One line of the report emphasises that “an unjustifiable Petrobras sponsorship agreement for the McLaren Formula 1 team – worth £163 million – was terminated.”

It is understood that the figure quoted, under the exchange rate when the deal was signed, relates to Petrobras' overall investment in its Formula 1 duties rather than merely its sponsorship of McLaren.

McLaren will remain powered by Renault, which uses BP/Castrol oil and lubricants, for 2020, ahead of a switch to Mercedes for 2021, on a deal that will last at least four years.

McLaren has made strides in Formula 1 this year, holding fourth in the Constructors’ Championship, and has already recorded its highest points total since 2014.

Brazil has been without a full-time Formula 1 driver since Felipe Massa’s retirement at the end of 2017 while the country’s grand prix is out of contract after 2020.

Officials at Interlagos – which has hosted the event annually since 1990 – remain keen to stay part of the schedule and recently met with senior Formula 1 chiefs for discussions.

Brazil is regarded as one of Formula 1’s least lucrative flyaways and was highlighted as a ‘black hole’ in Liberty Media's 2017 accounts, owing to the promoter’s close relationship with Bernie Ecclestone.

A Bolsonaro-supported motorsports park project in the Deodoro district of Rio de Janeiro has been earmarked as a potential future F1 venue but construction has yet to begin.

Bolsonaro claimed in May that Rio Motorpark would be ready for 2020 hosting duties but Interlagos will remain on next season’s F1 roster.

MotoGP promoter Dorna recently agreed a five-year deal to host events at Rio Motorpark from 2022.