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Burning Point: Formula One and Tobacco Sponsorships

4 November 2022   20:06 Diperbarui: 6 November 2022   00:20 578
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Finansial. Sumber ilustrasi: PEXELS/Stevepb

Who doesn't watch Formula One nowadays? Since the Netflix series "Drive to Survive" blew up, Formula One has become an advertising giant, especially to a younger audience. Data by market research group Ipsos Group S.A. reveals that 61% of new F1 fans are under 31, and 36% are under 25. 

This makes F1 fans an attractive target audience for sponsorships. If you watch F1 racing, you already know how much sponsorship contributes to a team. Just look at the car, 90% of the cars we actually can see, e.g the livery comprise brands that sponsored F1 teams.

It is not a surprise that around 40% of the F1 team's revenue stream comes from sponsorships (Markopoulos et al. 2019). It is concerning however that some F1 teams still have relations or even outright major stakeholders with "Big Tobacco". We all know that smoking is bad, so why then does the sport that highly cares about sustainability and ethics still undermines and let tobacco sponsorships?

Rooted History

Smoking and F1 have two things in common, a deep history albeit the former already exist long before F1 was even in the minds of people. The tobacco plant (N. tabacum, N. rusticum) has been growing wild in the Americas for 8000 years. 

The Native Americans use the plant by chewing and smoking, the latter being the preferred way. European first discovered smoking after Christopher Columbus set foot in the new world and by the 1700s smoking becomes widespread. By the latter half of the 1800s, cigarettes were developed and becomes a commodity.

While Grand Prix racing in some form has been raced since the 20s, Formula One becomes the first organized open-wheel championship in the 1950 rendition of the British Grand Prix in Silverstone. For 72 years, Formula One has been the gold standard of racing, boasting the highest development and technicalities of all racing cars, which has made Formula One teams have an eye-watering budget.

As mentioned before, F1 Teams heavily relied on sponsorship on a day-to-day basis, but it was not always like this. In the early years of F1, commercial advertising was banned in all forms. In 1968 however, the restrictions were lifted and in the South African Grand Prix, a car raced with a Rhodesian tobacco company with the "Gunston" cigarette brand.  

At the very next race in Jarama for the Spanish Grand Prix the founder of Lotus F1 Team, Colin Chapman struck a deal to put Imperial Tobacco's "Gold Leaf" brand to be prominently shown on the car and by this, a long history of Formula One and tobacco sponsorships started. 

After Imperial Tobacco, the major players in tobacco started pouring in, most notably Philip Morris International with its "Marlboro" brand, British-American Tobacco with "Lucky Strike" and "Benson & Hedges", and Japan Tobacco "Camel". This can be clearly seen in the names of the teams and the liveries of the era which prominently put the brand logo in the car.

The 80s are an era in which everyone smokes anytime anywhere, tobacco sponsorship just bolsters F1 drivers and racing to be a "cool" thing. Back then F1 is quite different, in which that it was more about racing and less about the business side of things like it is currently. However, in the late 90s and early 00s, two events will greatly change the landscape of F1 sponsorship and tobacco forever. 

The first one is one of the first successes in plaintiffs against tobacco companies. After documents were leaked to the press that the companies are aware of the addictive nature and harmful chemicals of cigarettes.

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