This week saw the launch of Angry Birds Heikki, the web game resulting from Rovio’s partnership with Heikki Kovalainen. It’s okay, as it goes: it’s just Angry Birds with a vague F1 theme. There’s only one level at the moment – Silverstone – with another unlocked after each race for the rest of the season. Though strangely it’s not in line with the calendar – so for example, after the British Grand Prix, it’s the Hockenheim level that’s unlocked.
Kovalainen is far from the first driver to lend his name to video game, of course, and for every Colin McRae, there’s been a Michael Schumacher – who lent his name to a handful of rather anonymous karting games.
The Jenson Button game that never was
In terms of licensing misadventure though, Schumacher’s got nothing on Jenson Button. He signed his name over to Tiger Telematics for their ill-fated handheld Gizmondo, specifically for a racing game called Chicane, subtitled ‘Jenson Button Racing’ or later ‘Jenson Button Street Racing’.
This was back in 2004 – doesn’t he look young? – when Button was at BAR, and the driver closest to challenging Ferrari in an utterly dominant year. He was a reasonably attractive property, then. Said Carl Freer, MD of Gizmondo Europe:
Oh yes, Will.I.Am was going to do the music too.
It didn’t get very far, though. US studio Handheld Games were set to develop the title, but by mid-2005 they were suing Gizmondo Europe and Tiger Telematics for at least $75,000 for breach of contract, alleging that they hadn’t supplied the development kits and license information required.
The game was, unsurprisingly, never released. That didn’t stop Chicane from appearing on Gizmondo’s release schedule months later, though. Quite where they thought they were going to get the game from is anyone’s guess.
Gizmondo: a bit of background
The company positively threw money around – a launch party attended by Sting amongst others, a Gizmondo store on London’s Regent Street, lavish pay and benefits for executives and their partners. But they didn’t really get much money in, selling maybe 20,000 units.
You don’t need to be an accountant to what that means: massive losses.
And now: Eddie Jordan
By the time liquidation inevitably came in 2006, there had been plenty more lawsuits: marketing agency Ogilvy, MTV over sponsorship of the 2005 MTV Europe Music Awards, and only bloody Jordan Grand Prix.
The sponsorship deal with Jordan was announced in 2003, when the device was known as Gametrac. The car carried the Gametrac logo at the British Grand Prix that year, and was due to for the duration of the 2004 season.
Always good with predictions, Eddie Jordan described them as “a smart company setting the trend in an innovative industry”. And you can see EJ proudly showing off his new signing in this photo on autosport.com.
Finally: Le Mans
That’s not the last motorsport link in the Gizmondo tale though. In 2005, a Gizmondo-branded Ferrari 360 Modena GTC took part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Appropriately enough, it didn’t finish the race. Helpfully, someone filmed one of its pitstops and shoved it on YouTube:
One of the drivers of that #92 Ferrari was Stefan Eriksson, the Gizmondo executive who achieved huge notoriety when he destroyed a Ferrari Enzo in a high speed crash in California in 2006. On Wikipedia, Eriksson is described first as a criminal – just one of a number who were involved in the Gizmondo mess.
So you’d have to say, on balance, it was probably best for Jenson Button that the game was never released. Proof – if more is needed this week – that motorsport can’t choose who takes an interest.
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