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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ;)!