For the first 17 years of Formula One to the modern fan it would be strikingly noticeable there wasn’t an advert in sight. The teams would race in associated liveries, such as Italian national red or ‘British Racing Green.’
All this changed in 1968 when Colin Chapman, who was always short of the funds he required to go racing, sent out Graham Hill and Jim Clarke sporting the green and yellow colours of “Gold Leaf” tobacco in his Lotus 49.
F1 iconic liveries now banned
For several decades there was a free for all with each team collecting as much cash from donors hard to be associated with Formula One. At the time given the limited media coverage its unlikely the sponsors were entering these partnerships believing they could benefit commercially from the arrangement.
It was more probable they were wealthy friends and associates of team owners who wished to have a first row view of the glamorous sport that was F1.
Then as Bernie Ecclestone began to commercialise the sport and the F1 championship became a truly global affair watched by hundreds if millions of eyeballs, certain practices caught the eyes of the authorities.
Some of the most iconic liveries inn F1 history are heavily associated with a variety of tobacco brands. The John Player Special black and gold Lotus still thrills the crowds at the historic Monaco races every two years.
EU bans F1 tobacco advertising
The Marlboro McLaren livery raced by both Senna and Prost is also one of the fans favourites of all times.
Then in 2005 the interventionist European Union decided on behalf of their citizens it would be better if tobacco advertising was banned form F1 and smoking discouraged amongst their peoples on health grounds.
Of course Formula One is well known for its innovation and so the teams found a way around the regulations with Jordan advertising “Buzzin Hornets” in the same font and colour as the “Benson & Hedges” brand.
Ferrari stuck the iconic Marlboro bar code on their rear wing and their sponsor Philip Morris who coughed up around $160m a year to support the Ferrari team recently devised the “Mission Winrow” campaign.
F1 teams clever ways around rules
Even in recent years tobacco companies have found ways around the F1 ban with Ferrari occasionally sporting a green arrow style logo to advertise Philip Morris’ non-smoking brands.
British American Tobacco (BAT) partnered with McLaren in 2019 to launch its “A better tomorrow” campaign promoting its cigarettes and non nicotine brands.
This has now been replaced with the Woking based team now switching in and out BAT’s ‘Velo’ and ‘Vuse’ brands according to local laws, which are still present on their cars today.
Now the Dutch Heart Foundation, KWF Cancer fund and the lung fund have protested to the Advertising Code Commission in an attempt to ban McLaren from using the ‘Velo’ logo at the upcoming Dutch Grand Prix in a week’s time.
Dutch seek ban on McLaren
KWF director Carla van Gils told De Telegraaf: “To sustain a sickening and deadly business, in our opinion, this is contrary to good taste and decency.”
Dutch advertising consultant Jan Driessen agrees, saying: “If you know that the bags are not allowed to be sold in our country, you shouldn’t want to advertise them as an impactful brand.”
McLaren are presently holding fast claiming the Velo logo is perfectly legal under Dutch legislation.
“All branding carried on McLaren race cars fully complies with regulatory requirements and advertising standards of each country we race in,” a team spokesperson reportedly told Motorsport.com.
Champagne gives way on the podium
Whether or not McLaren are banned from promoting their sponsor the media fall out from the attempts to remove the ‘Velo’ logo will have satisfied BAT that they’ve already had good value for money before the cars even arrive in Zaandvoort.
Its not just tobacco products used the the F1 teams that have been targeted by the advertising law makers, Alcohol is another product where the waters are murky at times.
At certain races the podium champagne is replaced by rose water and this is because unlike tobacco, alcohol is only banned at certain select races like in Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and interestingly previously in Russia.
Alcohol companies have even been title sponsors for entire F1 weekend events in recent times. Johnnie Walker sponsored the Belgian Grand Prix in 2018 and 2019 and was even named F1’s official whiskey.
Alcohol partially banned in F1
Dutch beer brand Heineken has also been a large sponsor in F1, with their ‘When You Drive, Never Drink’ campaign boards plastered across many circuits on the calendar.
Different regional laws have created problems for a number of teams as evidenced by Williams with their classic Martini themed livery which required to be altered depending on the race event they were attending.
At the 2017 US Grand Prix, Lance Stroll was forced to wear a different racing suit design to his teammate Felipe Massa because he was below the legal drinking age of 21.
Other questionable products or services are allowed on the F1 cars such as gambling companies. In 2018 F1 itself signed up PokerStars in Europe and 188Bet in Asia to become their official ‘partners’.
Crypto now the big F1 money spinner
The reliance of teams on tobacco advertising which once ruled the roost in F1 has now shifted.The latest big influx of cash into the sport has come from the Crypto currency world.
Red Bull became the first team in 2019 to partner with a crypto platform FuturoCoin and since that time another 12 crypto sponsors have announced F1 deals.
Alfa Romeo most bizarre sponsor award
F1 itself was rumoured to be receiving a $100m from crypto.com which spawned a rather off the wall ‘overtake’ award won last season by Sebastian Vettel.
However, Alfa Romeo take the biscuit in this new era of sponsorship. It was rumoured they were to announce a new sponsor in Folk Inu – a dog themed crypto currency.
McLaren will presumably revert to their replacement for ‘Velo’ seen previously should the authorities ban their sponsor. Simply they switch around the letters in the same font to make the world ‘love.’
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) August 18, 2023