Text:/ Christopher Holder
As the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg kicked off a new F1 season with a dominant one/two podium finish at Melbourne Albert Park, at least one AV manufacturer was cheering especially loudly. Epson has entered into a multi-year sponsorship agreement with the Mercedes F1 team and invited AV APAC along to a pre-race press conference with the drivers to learn more about the deal.
Ian Cameron, Epson’s General Manager, Brand, Marketing, Communications & Digital Media, flew in on the red-eye from Singapore to be there: “Epson last sponsored the F1 25 years ago, which really helped to put Epson on the global map. This time around we’re using F1’s international reach to position Epson as a technology leader. People already know us as a producer of inkjet printers and AV APAC readers will know about our dominance in the projector market, but we’re more than that. We want to help give Mercedes a technical edge by working with them on ‘wearables’ [smart watches] and our Moverio smart glasses.”
Indeed, a lot has changed since Epson last sponsored the biggest travelling circus in the world. Twenty-five years ago Marlboro was battling it out against John Player Special with Camel nipping at their heels. Big-time sports sponsorships represent a far more nuanced and sophisticated relationship these days. Team Mercedes is as aware of this as anyone. And even though the ink was barely dry on the Epson deal, the Mercedes drivers had plenty of complimentary things to say, especially looking forward to wearing the Epson Pulsense fitness watch and band (which, thanks to an LED sensor in the back of the watch, does away with cumbersome chest straps to measure your pulse).
But it’s Epson’s Moverio smart glass technology that may prove to offer the critical edge for Mercedes. Anyone with a passing interest in motor racing will be familiar with images of pit crew glued to TV monitors, interrogating the fire hose of telemetry pouring from the car. Clearly there’s a place for heads up displays (HUD) for the crew and the drivers. Nico Rosberg observed that his steering wheel was so packed with controls that they’ve literally run out of space on the front, resorting to the use of the rear of the steering wheel to accommodate more buttons. But when you’re travelling at 300kmh it’s hardly the time to be taking your eyes off the road, inspecting data displays and reacting. A heads up display may well be the answer, where crucial data can be flashed into the driver’s peripheral vision, from where they can respond with nary a twitch of an iris.
Rosberg and Hamilton epitomise the modern breed of driver: super fit and whip smart, inhabiting a world where ‘one percenters’ are replaced by milliseconds and milligrams. Any edge could be crucial, especially a technical edge. So it comes as no surprise that these drivers and the Mercedes team can’t wait to see where this partnership goes.