Wheeze. Puff. So at last F1 is rid of loverly fags. Ferrari – the last remaining team with tobacco sponsorship in the pinnacle of motorsport – will run a ‘barcode’ livery instead of Marlboro stickers, even where the country hosting the race would allow the full-tar design.
Personally, I’m glad. A few years ago I ended up on a Radio 5 phone-in where one of the panel asked me to defend F1 not from a position of spectacle or entertainment, butfrom the fact that it glamorised tobacco in developing countries. Vaguely disgusted with the situation myself, I pretty much agreed with him, bringing the ‘discussion’ to a embarrassingly quick conclusion.
A grid full of cars burning unleaded and avgas is far enough down the scale of social acceptability, I reckon, without throwing death sticks into the equation.
And yet I do have a tinge of regret, because booze and ciggies have given us some of the most fever liveries in F1, and motorsport in general. I’m old enough to remember Nigel Mansell crashing out of the Monaco GP lead in a sexy, black JPS Lotus. Or the simple beauty of John Watson’s red-and-white McLaren as he won the British GP at Silverstone in 1981. And in my book, a Lancia rally car simply didn’t count unless it had Martini Racing stripes.
There’s a reason for this, of course. Twenty years ago a single firm like Martini, JPS or Marlboro could bring enough cash to the table to buy every square inch of available advertising space. In the case of British American Tobacco, they went on to own the team itself. But now the global economy means that traditional money sources have been replaced by emerging industries: computing, mobile phone networks and e-tailers.
Will F1 ever look the same again? I doubt it. But I think that’s as much down to piecemeal sponsorship deals creating scattergun liveries than the fact that the products featured won’t harm your health.