F1 News, Views and Reviews

Column: F1’s Anti-Tobacco Stance Could Lead To It’s Demise

F1’s Anti-Tobacco Stance Could Be Its Demise In World Crisis by Robert (F1Fanatics founder)

When sponsorship first came to Formula One, it was alcohol and cigarettes at the front of the queue.  The image F1 portrayed back in the day of either glory or death was perfect for the advertisers to get the image of their product across.  Cigarette companies became a dominant force with teams and drivers, often having logos on pretty much everyone and everything that moved, and they had deep pockets which team bosses liked.  Tobacco was acceptable, and they just seemed to work with motorsport.

One day that changed, and they all left.  In their place high flying banks and consultancy companies.  However will the economic crisis, which is seeing these companies jump ship, prove that F1 was wrong to conform and leave cigarettes behind?

In 1968, Lotus unveiled their car with Imperial Tobacco’s brand “Gold Leaf” adorining the car.  This was where tobacco and F1’s beautiful partnership started.  Lotus needed money, Imperial wanted exposure.  The two worked together beautifully.  From there, the other major players would get involved in our sport and bring in unprecedented amounts of money.

Gold Leaf Lotus, where the tobacco adverts all started

Gold Leaf Lotus, where the tobacco adverts all started

Marlboro, Benson and Hedges, Rothmans, John Player Special, State Express 555, Lucky Strike, West and Gauloises amongst others have had major prominence upon cars.  Indeed in 1999 when BAR was launched, British American Tobacco were the major shareholder and after rejection of the two different cars showing different tobacco adverts, they ran with the very famous “Zipper” cars.

Lucky Strike have been a major sponsor in F1

Lucky Strike have been a major sponsor in F1

Despite bans on tobacco advertising coming in the 1980’s, the cigarette companies remained major players in F1, as Bernie Ecclestone masterminded plans to allow the sponsorship at races.  Marlboro especially had a huge presence in F1 with McLaren, Ferrari and multiple race sponsorships.  There was a major political scandal around 2002 involving Ecclestone and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who allegedly took a bribe to pass an expemption for Silverstone Circuit on tobacco adverts.  It ultimately failed, and led to the downfall of the adverts.

In 2000, Williams stopped their sponsorship deal with Winfield the Australian tobacco company and instead ran Compaq Computer liveries with NiQuitin CQ adverts, NiQuitin being a stop smoking aid.  By 2004, Mclaren were ending their deal with West, and went without a major sponsor until 2007 when Vodafone joined.  Renault followed suit in 2006 with Honda both waving goodbye to Mild Seven and Lucky Strike respectively.

The 2005 McLaren had few sponsors

The 2005 McLaren had few sponsors

In complete opposition, in 2005 Ferrari signed a new deal with Philip Morris to carry Marlboro branding on their cars.  They did so until 2007, but in 2008 said they would only carry the bar coding blank outs, even in places such as Bahrain  There was a test recently to see what stimulated smokers into wanting a cigarette and the bar coding on a Ferrari was the #1, higher indeed than a picture of a box of cigarettes. where the sponsorship is still legal.

Marlboro and Ferrari - A long term relationship

Marlboro and Ferrari - A long term relationship

So, majority of teams are now sponsored by high technology firms or banks.  In 2009 we find ourselves in the midst of a major economic crisis with companies and banks going bust left right and centre.  ING are pulling all sponsorship from next season, Vodafone are in trouble on the UK stock market, Williams have 4 sponsors this season and one of those – RBS-  is bailing out next year, McLaren will lose Santander sponsorship to Ferrari at the end of the season, Brawn GP appears to have no sponsors at the moment and if Red Bull sees declining sales both their team and Toro Rosso could be out of the sport.  Its pretty major to say the least.

ING, bowing out after just 3 years

ING, bowing out after just 3 years

In times of a recession, two things happen.  Firstly, people start going to church.  Secondly, people start smoking.  Ha! I hear the bosses cry, we’ll just ring Lucky Strike for advertising again, but you cant because all of the teams have been “pro” stopping sponsorship so nowhere allows it any more.  Bugger it.

I am not justifying cigarettes or smoking here, I don’t do it myself and am unlikely ever to either – in honest truth I have never even tried it.  What I am saying is, that tobacco companies brought a lot to F1, and we owe them so perhaps we were too quick to jump ship and join the bandwagon of treating Philip Morris and BAT as criminals, and should have been a bit nicer.  If we had, and their adverts continued then perhaps we wouldn’t be experiencing such an impact from the global financial crisis as we are today in our sport.

So who will sponsor F1 from next year.  Who knows?  Maybe we will go back to non-sponsored cars, I mean there are cost cutting measures in place ;)!

Car of the future?!

Car of the future?!



3 responses

  1. Dani

    Awesome article! 5 Stars!

    March 10, 2009 at 4:33 am

  2. Thanks man, appreciate it. I sometimes worry i’m just rambling on!


    March 10, 2009 at 11:47 am

  3. Art Bianconi

    At the risk of betraying my age, I’ve been a F1 fan for over 50 years. I was once flattered by Rob Walker’s invitation to be member of his team in 1962 during the North American event which was at Watkins Glen and while the exposure to the inside of the sport was admittedly brief, I can still say without hesitation that by comparison, today’s F1 sport has far more serious things to concern itself with than tobacco sponsorship money.

    IMO, the need for sponsors with deep pockets is a symptom of a much deeper issue. Simply put: the fanatical pursuit of aerodynamic technology and advanced IT systems has driven the cost of F1 racing out of sight.

    If one saw what we used to campaign F1 cars in the 60’s yet how exciting and competitive the races were, it would be apparent that Uncle Bernie has driven the costs so high, one needs the Hubble telescope to see them.

    First, get rid of aerodynamic devices completely!

    Eliminate automatic gear changes and let those guys learn how to use their left foot and shifter once more.

    Insist on the use of a production block homologated through conventional criteria of up to 6 liters. Let them do anything thy want to the heads but the valves must be the same size as stock.

    Finally, eliminate all telemetry gathering.

    The result will be slower cars but the costs will be cut dramatically. They will also be a lot safer. And, they will sound like masculine cars once more, not angry insects.

    I’ve spent my entire life immersed in advanced technology. I have been employed in some of the most respected engineering circles even to this day. There is no question about my continued passion for technology and engineering innovation. Yet, I see that too much of a good thing, in this case aerospace technology, is subverting the sport, exacerbating costs and actually making the cars dangerous.

    These are supposed to be cars, not emasculated aircraft. Yet by adding wings and such, they place the cars into the aerodynamic transition regimes where airplanes are most vulnerable. Lose down lift from the canard while trying to pass and the loss of steering puts you into the tire barrier. If air gets under the front as happened at Le Mans recently to a Mercedes Coupe, the car can become airborne. That MB flipped end over end at over 200 mph while up in the air and landed on the other side of the armco. You want to see what the consequences are of a car crashing like that into a crowd? Go view the videos and reports of the 1955 Le mans Twenty Four Hours. It was downright ugly.

    Changes like the ones I’m suggesting would make the need for supplemental sponsor endorsements unnecessary. It might also invite teams from those other than car manufacturers who dominate the sport, not out of passion for the sport but who see a desperate need to establish a presence in developing nations.

    West-European car sales have been flat since long before the global economy went south. Same for North American car sales.

    Dropping traditional racing venues like Silverstone were justified by Ecclestone for reasons fabricated to hide one simple fact. They needed those dates for countries that promise to be new markets for the car companies. Among the absurdities of such venues is that the cost of a modest ticket to get in is enough to feed a family of four for six months!

    Cutting the technology costs also promises an additional benefit. Faster cars need faster driver reflexes and a greater tolerance for the high G forces made possible by suspension and tire technology.

    Lowering the speed would lower the G loads and put greater emphasis on where it deserves to be: on driver talent and judgement not on reflexes and other youthful attributes.

    By current standards some of the best drivers and most revered drivers who have ever lived would never even get a second look. One of the best examples was Fangio who didn’t win his first world championship until he was already 50 years of age! When he won his last world championship before retiring he was 56 years old!!!

    Rubens Barrichello is currently said to be “the old man of the sport” They said the same thing about David Coulthard. Too old? Give me a break!

    Lastly, put a cap on driver salaries and sign up bonuses like they do in NBA and elsewhere. Kimi’s salary is so high that he is said to average about 2.5 million dollars a race! I like Kimi but salaries like that are a deterrent to trying out aspiring drivers and also limits field of entries.

    Yes the loss of tobacco sponsors may sting some but unless the more costly elements of car construction and entry are hacked back dramatically, all the tobacco money in the world won’t save it.

    Art Bianconi

    October 18, 2009 at 1:56 am

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