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Exclusive interview - Allianz's Christian Deuringer 03 Apr 2008

Allianz's Dr Christian Deuringer, Vice President, Group Marketing. © Allianz Nico Rosberg (right) and Kazuki Nakajima (left) pose with the Williams-Toyota FW30. © Allianz The official Formula One safety car leads the field at the European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, July 2007. © Allianz Bernd Maylander, official Formula One safety car driver. © Allianz Kazuki Nakajima in the cockpit of the Williams-Toyota FW30. © Allianz

With more than 80 millions customers in 70 countries, Allianz is a truly international company. Hence it came as no surprise when last year Allianz became an Official Global Partner of Formula One - the most international of sports - with exclusivity within Financial Services.

However, there is far more to Allianz’s Formula One partnership than mere publicity. Allianz are experts in the areas of road safety and risk management and they utilise Formula One to share this valuable expertise with the public.

To mark the launch of the new Safety section on Formula1.com, produced in association with Allianz, we spoke to Dr Christian Deuringer, Vice President, Group Marketing, to discover a little more about Allianz’s Formula One involvement…

Q: Allianz have been a part of Formula One racing since 2000. Why did you originally get involved?
Christian Deuringer:
It was a point in time when branding and globalisation were becoming important issues. Allianz grew significantly by acquisition in the ’80s and ’90s. We wanted to leverage the Allianz brand further on a global level - to make this traditionally German brand into a truly global brand - and we were looking for platforms. Formula One is an unrivalled platform to really reach global brand awareness and to make people know and understand your brand in every way possible. Allianz became one of the first financial services companies to enter Formula One.

We started out with the team engagement with Williams F1, but we rapidly learned that ideally an effective Formula One engagement needs to be based on more pillars. That’s why we started trackside advertising in 2002 and introduced all sorts of other additional activities, which led us then on a very evolutionary path to the additional engagements you are seeing today, including the pit-lane branding and the global partner programme.

Q: As your involvement grew from a team sponsor to a global partner, what were the benefits you were seeing that made you want to raise the level of your involvement?
Different initiatives lead to different results, so while the team engagement is not as important from a branding perspective, it is very important emotionally and in terms of credibility. The race hospitality programmes we are running would not be possible without a team engagement, as you really need to get up close to the drivers and cheer for your team where it all happens.

The trackside advertising has a completely different function, of course. It drives the branding, it tells people over a race weekend that we are there. Then we have to actively make the brand meaningful and link it back to our business, because we have a very good reason why we are in Formula One - our risk management and road safety programme. Our business is risk management; we provide risk coverage for 50 million motorists around the world and there is indeed a transfer between what we do and what we see in Formula One. F1 is about managing risk and performance - as is our business.

Q: So how does your involvement in Formula One benefit your customers?
In terms of managing risks and providing safety, we have a specific unit - the Allianz Centre for Technology (ACT) - which investigates and invests tremendous resources into understanding not only road safety, but also what’s going on in Formula One. If you take the monocoque chassis and the safety issues around this, there is a lot of testing going on and there is a transfer into regular (road car) series production. The ACT conducts one crash test every week across a whole range of manufacturers and the learning generated is instantly fed back into the industry - and hence to our clients.

Q: We can see how in the past Formula One has benefitted road cars, but how do you see it contributing in the future, particularly in terms of safety for the average motorist?
From a safety perspective, we have achieved quite a lot already. I think the next major transfer will come on the technology side of things - hybrid technology, fuel efficiency, efficient dynamics. I think that’s going to be the next quantum leap in terms of the transfer from Formula One to mass production. In terms of (Formula One) safety we can look back at a few really good years with no really serious injuries. You could call it lucky, but it is just a result of all the development that was done in terms of driver safety, not forgetting about spectator safety as well.

Q: Many people would think of traction control as a key safety feature in their everyday road car. What do you think about its removal from Formula One racing this year?
Formula One is a balance between risk and performance. And I’m very much of the belief that the driver should be the focus. Yes it’s great to offer a variety of devices that make driving a bit safer, but in the end it’s the responsibility of the driver to drive safely - to use these devices properly. Just because traction control and other systems won’t be seen in Formula One, this won’t be copied and applied in the real world, I’m sure. It emphasises the importance of the driver to everyone as well.

Q: Playing devil’s advocate, some people would say that Formula One racing should be about speed and danger, not about safety, that the drivers are paid millions of pounds to take risks. What would you say to those people?
I would say that this view is only one side of the coin. You don’t lose the excitement or the spectacle of F1 by introducing a certain set of safety rules. The viewer rates, the reach and the value of the F1 brand, and its performance from a media perspective, all suggest there are very few people who think that way. The safety rules mean you can enjoy watching a race with your family without being frightened that something really serious will happen.

Q: Bernd Maylander, the official Formula One safety car driver, and ex-race Christian Danner are both ‘safety ambassadors’ for Allianz. What role do they play and what message can they bring to the Formula One watching public?
…both to the F1 public but also to the Allianz customers! Bernd Maylander is one of the most undervalued guys in F1. We contracted him to tell the safety story based on his personality and that works out tremendously well. He’s a great guy, he’s fun to work with and fun to listen to and he’s doing an amazing job in really getting this message across.

Christian Danner, especially in the German-speaking part of the world, is one of the true authorities. He’s a co-commentator at RTL (broadcasters of Formula One racing in Germany). He’s very well known and on top of that the name Danner is very much linked to the Allianz company - his father, Professor Max Danner, was one of the founding members of the Allianz Centre for Technology, so there’s a legacy and a history there that we are able to carry on. We’re using him in all kinds of activities around the world to highlight the importance of road safety explain what safety in F1 is all about in a very approachable way. Yes, there is magic and spectacle, but it needs to be translated into understandable terms to make it relevant.

Q: Would you like to see other Formula One drivers doing more generally to promote safety?
Yes, and we are thinking about this. We are present around the world but we are very much focusing on emerging markets like India and China, where we are going to see a tremendous growth in the population of young motor racing fans. And if you’ve ever been driven on the roads of Mumbai, for example, you know that road safety is definitely an issue there. We have recently been running a road show in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, which is going to continue in India and China, where we used Christian Danner and our other ambassadors, as well as drivers like Williams’ Nico Rosberg, who is a great person to really get the message across about driving safely. The message might be really simple, but you won’t believe how strong the message becomes to a young audience when it comes from one of these world stars, these idols. They don’t always listen to their parents, but they listen to these guys. So I think that even with very small initiatives, we can achieve a lot in terms of really improving overall road safety levels, increasing the rate of people buckling up for example.

Q: Allianz have a new trackside and pit-lane branding programme starting in Bahrain this weekend. Can you tell us a bit about your programme for 2008?
It’s building on what we did in 2007, the first year of our global partner programme. We are happy that the financial services industry has identified Formula One as one of the platforms to build a brand and we are watching closely what our competition is doing. Being copied is always a nice compliment, but we need to stay ahead and that’s why were entered in to this global partner programme. There are only two global partners so far, DHL and Allianz, so on the one hand it’s an honour, but on the other there’s a lot of pressure on us to show our credibility. In that context what’s going to be more visible is the Safety section on the Formula1.com website.

Q: What do you hope the users will get from this new section on the website?
Safety is not always a very self explanatory topic, so it needs to be translated into what safety in F1 means in real terms. The new section is a very educational way of telling a mass audience the secrets of Formula One and to explain some of the reality behind the myth. It’s about telling the story of why we are really involved with Formula One.

Q: What direction will your future Formula One involvement take? Have you got any particular goals or aims?
From a geographical perspective, of course, we’re very happy that Formula One is following our business path - or that we are following Formula One’s business path - to new markets, whether it’s Abu Dhabi or Singapore, or a bit further down the line Russia or India. From a branding perspective, I think we’re doing well in establishing Allianz as one of the long-term partners. Awareness is not that much of an issue anymore. Now we’re increasingly using the platform to tell the safety story and its link back to our motor business, and to explain that we’re more than an insurer, that we offer a full range of financial services, asset management and banking.

Q: Some would say that allying a financial services company with Formula One is quite a marketing challenge - to make such a co-operation valid in the eyes of the public. Do you think you’ve achieved that effectively?
You could raise this question with any brand outside the car manufacturing industry. We truly believe that motorsport is relevant for our business - again, 50 million cars in the world are covered by Allianz. In the end, of course, it is also a marketing platform. It’s a great platform to display the brand - and it’s not that much of a difference whether you are in telecommunications, commercial services or drinks - but we are in the fortunate position of being able to link it back directly to our business, making it a true partnership rather than just a sponsorship.