Excuse me, have you got a light?
Formula 1 racing has always been considered a sport that is dependent on sponsorship money to provide the funding for teams to operate, year after year. As part of this funding supply, there has always been a series of well known sponsors that handed over large sums of money to ensure their brand was well noticed. These companies make one product in its variations, the cigarette. The start of the tobacco money, namely from 'Imperial Tobacco' really took hold with the well known livery of the 'Gold Leaf' Lotus 49B as driven by Graham Hill. This was effectively the first F1 car that looked like a cigarette packet with four wheels bolted onto it. Not only was corporate money from the tobacco giants easy to obtain for the teams, a winning car meant that the highlighted product was also recognised and consumed by the fans. Of course at the time, smoking was a social norm that was accepted. Today, that is a much different story.
The late Graham Hill at the wheel of his moving 'Gold Leaf' packet, pushed around by a Lotus engine
The money from the tobacco giants kept rolling in through into the 1970's. The cost of running a team was of course rising, drivers were being paid more and the championship was growing. In 1972, the Lotus 72 was branded with the 'JPS' (John Player Special) logo and colour scheme. This becoming one of the most beautiful F1 cars ever created. If it was not for the JPS black and gold colouring, would it have been considered such a fantastic car to look at and adore?
The 'Super Swede', Ronnie Peterson pushing his Lotus 72 with the fattest great tyres ever seen to the limit
For the 1974 season, McLaren partnered up with Philip Morris and began a long two decade association with the infamous red and white branded Marlboro-McLaren F1 cars. In 1994 Japanese Tobacco threw a lot more money at the Benetton team using their 'Mild Seven' branding.
Keke Rosberg was never a lightweight, but at Portugal in 1996, he plugged 'Marlboro' as the light alternative ciggie of choice to smoke
In 1994, the advantage of wearing Benetton clothing meant that with a charcoal filter, the ash from a 'Mild Seven' cigarette would always wash out of your clothing if you had an accident
Of course, money moves around between the teams and Philip Morris saw 1995 as the chance to hand a blank cheque to the Scuderia, with the Ferrari cars now displaying the famous red and white triangles. Where there is smoke there is fire and with cigarette money, it will only ever tend to go towards the big winning teams. Some of the smaller teams including Ligier in their later days kept the French heritage of the 'Gauloises' name on the rear wing. For most of us, we couldn't buy a packet of these brands including 'West' whom was now being pushed by Imperial Tobacco as their big brand product on the McLaren tubs.
Ligier kept their French chic and the smoking Honda-Mugen engines for 1996
Into the late 1990's, some countries had taken a direct and public stance against the advertising of tobacco related products. With Jordan now having 'Benson & Hedges' as a title sponsor, they came up with ingenius ways of keeping the brand name going with a font by re-branding their cars, overalls and merchandise with 'Bitten & Hisses'. To add to the theme, a snake head image was depicted on the front logo. Williams had at this time accepted the benefit of the cigarette money and ran with the 'Rothmans' and 'Winfield' livery for several seasons. For those occasions that they had to black out the brand, they used wording such as 'Racing' and 'Winning' which sadly the team weren't doing much of at the time.
Jordan didn't want to let go of the bite that tobacco money meant for the teams budget
For 1999, the British American Tobacco company decided that they would fund a whole team, well what they thought was a winning team as British American Racing (BAR). With Craig Pollock as the Team Principal they had a public relations guru and the world was their oyster. Pollock could promise everything and delivered nothing. Despite lodging an application to have two separate livery's on their cars for the brands '555' and 'Lucky Strike', they instead went with the zipper car. Both cars had a half and half livery with a zipper running down the centre. Despite have recruited a former world champion driver in Villenuve, the team was a failure.
Sadly for BAR, the zipper got stuck half way and the rest of the story is history
In 2001, the conclusive decision was made that from 2007 onward, no F1 car would be allowed to advertise any tobacco sponsorship. Despite this, Ferrari kept accepting the cash and sponsorship support of Philip Morris. It was always up to the team to design a 'Marlboro' logo that was so subtle enough that the FIA didn't claim that it was the famous triangle image associated with the brand. It took the guise of barcodes and subtle white lines down the engine cover. This appeared most predominately on the F10.
Price check please, this barcode doesn't work
In 2018, the Ferrari team announced a major re-branding of a sponsor with the wording 'Mission Winnow'. Of course those of us with a keen eye established that the letter spacing and character placement was the 'Marlboro' triangle in disguise. The new branding for Philip Morris was nothing more than a marketing ploy and great spin by marketing gurus to state that Philip Morris were selling a product that was not only transforming, but their company and an entire industry as well were shifting direction. Remember, cigarettes sell due to the addictive nature. It was interesting to note that McLaren announced a new partnership with British American Tobacco (BAT) at the launch of the 2019 F1 season challenger with the MCL34. Predominately displayed on the front wing end plates, nose cone and the driver overalls is the phrase 'A better tomorrow'. The McLaren team through Zak Brown as the Chief Executive have stated that the partnership with BAT is based on one of technology with their new products. Well we have seen some of the previous years McLaren F1 contenders ending their race in a cloud of smoke so lets see what this deal brings.
Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz (Jnr) at the launch of the MCL34. As seen on their overalls is the phrase 'A BETTER TOMORROW'. For the sake of McLaren's recent form, we can only hope so
The question remains, should the tobacco companies be banned altogether from partnering with an F1 team and using their subliminal advertising? Maybe for some of these tobacco companies they've struck a match and can see a way to get around the rules through the smoke haze of regulation.