Renault's 2009 pre-season preparations - already compromised somewhat by the troubled debut of its new R29 challenger - have been dealt a further blow after title sponsor ING confirmed that it is to end all of its Formula 1 activities at the end of the year.

It was revealed last month that the Dutch banking group was planning to slash its spending within the sport by 40 per cent as part of a EUR1 billion cost-cutting drive [see separate story - click here], after announcing its second successive quarterly loss, of EUR3.3 billion. That came as a result of the global credit crunch, which has seen it draw upon EUR22 billion of Dutch state loan guarantees.

ING currently spends some $100 million on its F1 sponsorship deals. Aside from its three-year contract with Renault - due to expire at the end of 2009 - the company has also acted as title sponsor to the Australian and Belgian Grands Prix over the past two seasons and promoted further trackside advertising at 14 of the 18 races in 2008.

The venture marked ING's first global sponsorship endeavour aimed at generating revenue, and since 2007 has raised overall brand awareness by 16 per cent in key growth markets, achieving the struggling financial services group's principal goal.

It was previously stated that a decision would be made mid-year about whether to prolong its agreements in the top flight, but that decision has now been made somewhat more swiftly. A statement said that 'in light of the recently announced cost-reduction programme', ING had elected 'not to renew' its backing and will consequently 'end its presence in F1' following the conclusion of the forthcoming campaign.

'F1 remains a powerful business driver even in a difficult economic climate,' the statement read. 'Whilst ING has cut the F1 sponsorship costs by 40 per cent in the final year, revenue generating opportunities will be a continuing focus through 2009.

'ING has enjoyed the relationship with Renault F1 and will continue to work closely with the team during the final year of the partnership.'

A statement released by Renault acknowledged that the French outfit 'understands completely ING's decision not to extend its Formula 1 sponsorship beyond the 2009 season', as team managing director Flavio Briatore hinted that the news had not come entirely as a major shock.

"During the past three years, the team and ING have enjoyed a rewarding and successful relationship," the Italian underlined. "ING has been an enthusiastic and supportive partner for the Renault F1 Team in all respects.

"They have been a true success story and have become a brand that is recognised worldwide, thanks to an innovative and pro-active sponsorship programme with our team and Formula 1.

"However, we have been aware for quite some time that the world's current financial climate was calling for a restructuring of our sport - and with FOTA (the Formula One Teams' Association) we have moved in that direction.

"Drastic cost reductions have been on FOTA's agenda as one of the first priorities, and with the ongoing programme of measures we are confident we can guarantee a solid future for our team and for Formula 1."



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