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Bahrain step up sponsor hunt with McLaren likely to leave WorldTour

Rod Ellingworth and Mark Cavendish at the Saudi Tour
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Just a year after entering the WorldTour and taking aim at winning the Tour de France, car manufacturer McLaren look likely to wind down their activity and sponsorship at Bahrain-McLaren at the end of the year.

The financial pressures stemming from the coronavirus pandemic have seen the British company suffer huge financial losses in recent months with 1,200 staff at their UK base let go earlier this spring. Riders and staff on the Bahrain-McLaren team took wage deferrals of up to 70 percent earlier this year for an agreed three-month period as the team looked to stave off financial woes, and Cyclingnews understands that although those deferred wages will not be paid in full, the squad will end the year with 75 percent of their yearly salary after the team’s owner, Shaikh Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, guaranteed to keep the team in operation for 2021.

Meanwhile, the backroom staff are working hard on finding a new sponsor should the car company end their commitment within cycling.

“The team are onto something else, but they’ve not found anything concrete,” a source close to the team told Cyclingnews. "The Prince is still backing things but he’s pretty much the only one keeping the team alive at the moment. McLaren’s focus is on keeping alive their F1 project.

“The level of deferrals were different for those on lesser money, but the plan is that at the end of the year, things even out so the wages are at around 75 percent full. There was a conference call last week, and no one knew what to expect. Some thought that the wage deferrals would stay at 75 percent because of everything that’s going on with McLaren.”

The Bahrain royal family owns a majority of stake in McLaren, but the financial pressures on both entities have been immense in recent months. McLaren profits fell from $217.7 million in 2019 to $136.2 million in 2020, according to Forbes, whilst the brand’s pre-tax loss jumped 600 per cent to $165.6 million. It was also reported at the end of June that McLaren were handed a £150m loan from the Bank of Bahrain, but even that might not be enough to save McLaren’s spot on the cycling team.

Rod Ellingworth, Bahrain-McLaren’s Team Principal, would not go into detail or confirm whether McLaren would be part of the team next year. He told Cyclingnews that the team were actively seeking sponsorship but that this was business as normal as the team constantly looks for additional investment.

“We are constantly looking and we’re in some good discussions with people but that’s happening anyway,” Ellingworth told Cyclingnews.

“McLaren still owns half the team, alongside Bahrain and we’re going bike racing a few weeks with McLaren on the jersey. We know that it’s been a really tough time for a lot of companies. McLaren has had a tough time of it of late but we’re carrying on as is.”

A spokesperson for McLaren Group told Cyclingnews: "We are working closely with Team Bahrain McLaren to prepare for the resumption of cycling. As with all our activities, we continuously work to evaluate brand fit and reach with global audiences."

The cycling team upped their budget for 2020, signing a raft of riders including Mark Cavendish, Wout Poels, and Tour de France podium contender, Mikel Landa. The team also courted Chris Froome but the four-time Tour de France winner eventually signed for Israel Start-Up Nation. The financial impact from COVID-19 has seen several teams take measures to stabilise their operations with Mitchelton-Scott, and Lotto Soudal among the teams that agreed on pay cuts with their athletes.