LONDON (Reuters) - Former champion Formula One team Williams believes a new sponsorship deal with Italian drinks brand Martini can help to make it competitive again after a dismal season in 2013.
The team will race under the Williams Martini name in a new predominantly white car with distinctive blue and red stripes as part of a multi-year agreement.
The sponsorship has added to a mood of optimism that Williams is on the way back after a strong showing from new driver Felipe Massa in pre-season testing.
“It’s a nice car, nice design,” the Brazilian Massa said at a launch event in west London on Thursday.
“I‘m happy to have the most beautiful car on the track. I hope it’s as quick, consistent and reliable as it is beautiful,” added the former Ferrari driver.
Formula One will enter a new era when the season begins in Australia on March 16. The sport has ditched the old V8 engines and will now have turbocharged V6 units with energy recovery systems in the biggest technical upheaval for years.
Rivals see a chance to break Red Bull’s stranglehold on the sport as engineers grapple with the changes.
“We know that one of the most important things is to be reliable. We know that so many teams are struggling with their reliability,” Massa said.
Williams managed only five points in 2013 and want to put that disappointment behind them in their Mercedes-powered FW36 racing car.
“All we want to do this year is improve on last year,” said deputy team principal Claire Williams.
“We had a really difficult year last year and ended in ninth place and that’s not what Williams is about.”
For Martini, it is a return to Formula One, a sport which enjoys a large global following.
Martini was a major backer of the Brabham team in the 1970s and was also one of the sponsors of Italy’s Ferrari team between 2006 and 2008. It also enjoyed a successful partnered with Lancia in the World Rally Championship in the 1980s.
The sparkling wine and vermouth brand is part of the privately owned Bacardi group.
“It provides an unparalleled opportunity for the Martini brand to connect with consumers through one of their lifestyle passions, Formula One racing,” said Andy Gibson, chief marketing officer at Bacardi.
Alcohol and fast cars might seem a dangerous combination and both groups stressed their commitment to responsible drinking.
Williams has different liveries it can use when races are held in the Middle East and other parts of the world where alcohol advertising is not permitted.
Writing by Keith Weir, editing by Justin Palmer and Martyn Herman