DISCLAIMER: I should make it clear now that I do not condone or wish to promote smoking.
This thought was in part inspired by Renault’s return to Formula 1 as a full works team – thinking back to their successful ‘second coming’ in 2002. Then of course, the team was sponsored by Japanese tobacco company Mild Seven and being adorned by a vibrant French Racing Blue and almost canary yellow livery.
Back then, and indeed before it was unusual to see a top team not having tobacco companies splattered across their cars – Marlboro, Gitanes, West, Benson and Hedges, Winfield, Lucky Strike, Gauloises, Camel, Rothmans and of course the originals – John Player Special.
After their disappearance from Formula 1 in the mid 2000’s, the sport has seen many a team leave the sport – either through their own demands or because they’ve been driven into the ground by ever rising costs.
The tobacco sponsorship paved the way for an ‘F1 Pangea’ for a while. Teams could lure the best drivers using the millions of pounds pumped into the respective teams – such as Marlboro paying a fair chunk of Michael Schumacher’s hefty salary at the frightening peak of his and Ferrari’s white-knuckle grip on the sport at the turn of the millennium.
Also that’s how the likes of Damon Hill, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Giancarlo Fisichella ended up with Jordan (no offence, EJ) at some point in their career.
Williams managed to quit (with the help of NiQuitin sponsorship, of course), becoming the first team to win in a car not branding tobacco sponsorship in two years after Ralf Schumacher clinched his maiden victory at Imola, in 2001. Before that, the run stood for eight years – from Benetton’s Nelson Piquet’s win at Montreal, 1991 to Johnny Herbert’s crazy victory at the Nurburgring in 1999 in his trusty Stewart.
The end of the smoke fuelled era was seen as a spark, pressure to transform the sport into a new, greener era.
It’s safe to say quitting smoking has done more harm to F1, than it has done to any human.
Looking at the ethical side of things, it was the correct thing to do. In no way does the sport want to be promoting a product that harms and kills so many. And I certainly am not condoning smoking in any way.
And although we may have lost some constructors due to companies pulling the plug (a pertinent example would be Prost’s dramatic demise after Gauloises’ departure at the end of their ‘annus horribilis’ in 2000), some constructors opted to stay in the sport after the European and eventually world-wide ban; Honda for example when they dropped their Lucky Strike livery after 2006, in order for a Google Earth style for 2007.
That worked out well, didn’t it?
And it may be hard to say it, but the monstrous cigarette tycoons not only provided the platform for some stunning liveries (although that’s a superficial viewpoint), it also allowed talented drivers to race that may not have had the money in F1’s current state, shall we say.
Sure, they probably had to emblazon every piece of clothing with the respective brand that sponsored them as repayment – but it’s a small price to pay given they’ve funded your dream.
And as everyone knows, Formula 1 will always be about money.
Ashtrays at the ready.
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