And The Winner of the 2009 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Is...Etihad Airways

Sheiban ShakeriSenior Analyst IMarch 7, 2009

With a new Grand Prix comes a new and somewhat local track sponsor—Etihad Airways.

Etihad is billed as the official airlines of the United Arab Emirates and has received awards from various airline industry trackers for innovation and service since their inaugural flight in 2003. They are billed as a four-star airline, a similar position to Swiss International Airways, Qantas, and Virgin Atlantic.

The 2009 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is not for another eight months, but Etihad has been hyping the inaugural Grand Prix in the Emirates to such an extent that it can be heard from all the way here in North America.

There are two reasons for the noise reaching here:

The first reason has to do with them painting two of their aircraft—an Airbus A340-600 long haul (A6-EHJ for all you airliner aficionados) and a regional Airbus A320 (A6-EIB) - to Formula One themes, as can be seen in the image above.

This is the main reason for the knowledge of Etihad's sponsorship of the Grand Prix. The A340 flies to the long-haul destinations like London, Toronto, New York, and Sydney—major cities where Formula One is not an alien concept and has followers, and lots of them too.

As well, the topic of conversation, at least in Toronto, amongst my circle of friends who follow Formula One is that of the fact that Etihad is the main sponsor and how those who have flown with them think it's an amazing airline.

It is rare to hear about the Yas Marina Circuit, where the Grand Prix will be held, or who has the best chances of winning—the latter being too early to discuss. Etihad has latched on here and created a discourse where they do not talk about themselves (the sponsors), but have the fans talk about the sponsors instead.

It should also be known that Etihad has not used any airtime in their television commercials to talk about the Grand Prix. They probably will at a later date, but in the meantime, the talk is about the sponsor, not the race.

The second reason for the noise reaching here is one that is aimed towards a more specialized audience: the Formula One fan. Since the beginning of the 2008 season, Etihad sponsored Ferrari, with their logo being visible on the drivers' helmets and suits, and on the back of the rear wing.

Tifosi or not, you cannot lie and say you never saw the logos. In the logic of sponsorship in the sport, I, the fan, automatically assumed that Etihad would sponsor the Grand Prix because of their presence in the sport already.

As well, the sponsorships were never mentioned by them in any of their commercials either while other companies like RBS or ING used their commercials to mention their sponsorship with Williams or Renault, respectively.

For television audiences, the airline's name and logo will be seen all over the track as well as the podium, as has been the case for many Grands Prix the world over.

Overall, looking at the way that Etihad is sponsoring the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is an interesting one. They do not appear to be talking Grand Prix just yet or even mentioning their sponsorship with Ferrari.

Their only method of advertising their link with the Grand Prix currently has to do with word of mouth or the sight of their aircraft—a less than conventional method to get people talking in this day and age of cross-border connectedness.

If there is only one concern that is had by this writer, it's the hope that Etihad doesn't go too far and start shaping their trophies to their logo as was seen last year at a few races.

The Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi may be less than eight months away, but Etihad Airways is already a winner with the way they are promoting it.