Big Tobacco and the Setting Sun of Formula One

Mon Dec 05, 2016 16:03:09PM | Categories: Formula One
The #23 Ricardo Zonta car sits in Honda Collection Hall, Tochigi, Japan.By: Morio

It all comes down to money. In the world of sports, when has sponsorship and success ever not been synonymous? The top brands trip over one another in order to snag the top sports teams, these days. We see it every season, no matter what sport it is, whether it is a small logo on a lapel, or a biker-style rocker on the back of a jersey, logos are a way of life in professional sports. Auto racing has always been the golden boy of the advertising world. When one thinks of auto racing and sponsorship, NASCAR more than likely comes to mind, but that’s if you ask an American.

Ask anyone else from any other country, and you’ll more than like hear the words, Formula One. It represents the most cutting edge in automobile technology, if not, the very technological progression of the human race itself. Needless to say, there hasn’t been any question for sponsors to slap as many logos as they can fit on a successful team’s car. Yet, it seems as though, recently, many sponsors leave as quickly as they arrive to racing teams. Success and technology aside, some auto racing nuts have been whispering the death-throws of Formula One, and the possible cause of death being its very lifeblood, sponsorship.

Today, we see the logos of tech and oil companies on Formula One cars, such as Shell, Sahara, Microsoft, Epson, Black Berry, and Pure Storage, to name a few. Red Bull proudly slaps its logo on anything moving these days, especially in Formula One. It’s no secret that the Red Bull Racing team has one of the biggest budgets in Formula One, with a reported 468 million Euros in 2015. Each team’s budget is in the millions every year, a budget with which they live and die by. This life line makes it possible for them to race in style at some of the most glamorous tracks in the world, 9 months out of the year, such as Singapore and Monaco. A team’s budget not only sends it where it needs to go, but it greatly funds the building of a new state-of-the-art car every year. A Vice article said it well by saying that it’s a “frenzied arms race to the become world champion.” So what’s the deal? Why does a major sport such as Formula One appear to be listing 70 degrees to port? Three words, tobacco, tobacco, tobacco.

From the mid-20th century, up until 2007, the major sponsors for Formula One teams were cigarette companies, companies richer than most small nations, companies who threw endless stacks of money at teams without a care in the world. It was a time when brand Marlboro went hand in hand with Ferrari. Three major cigarette companies threw down over $750 million on teams in 2001 alone. Cigarette companies were able to shell out money for the sport’s top drivers. They poured millions into the sport in exchange for just stickers on cars. This gave teams a lot of freedom when it came to the car and the drivers they hired, which would be the fastest guys available.

Big tobacco cared for nothing but winning, with an attitude of money being no object. Their funding greatly contributed to keeping the sport afloat. Fast forward to 2007, Big Tobacco is pushed out due to the nature of their advertisement. Teams were no longer allowed to place tobacco sponsorship on their cars. With the departure of Big Tobacco came a very dark period for Formula One. Instead of teams having the cash to hire the most talented drivers, they were forced to hire drivers for commercial reasons. Instead of winning races, other sponsors cared more about how the driver looked on the podium with their jump suit on. It became more about what was at face value and popularity, forcing talented drivers with no financial backing away from the sport all together. Sadly, not much has changed since.

As Formula One’s image continues to tarnish, so will the ratings, and with that goes the funds from the sponsors. Teams are dropping out of the sport, left and right, mostly due to financial difficulties. As sad as it may be to say, Big Tobacco greatly held such an expensive sport together. If Formula One and sponsors don’t get their act together, over a century-long tradition will go up in smoke, fading into the pages of sports history, under the title “What could have been.”

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