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Marlboro dumps McLaren!

YOUR F1 FOREIGN REPORT is a few hours late today because we were waiting for an embargo deadline which we felt could not be left out of this week's news. Marlboro announced on Monday afternoon (London time) that it is not renewing its association with the McLaren team at the end of this season.

"Although our association with McLaren ends after the last race of 1996, our company remains committed to the support of Formula 1 and motorsports," said Walter Thoma, the president of Philip Morris EEC region. "During our 23 years of sponsorship, the Marlboro McLaren team has had unprecedented success, winning nine Drivers' World Championships, seven World Constructors' Championships and 96 Grands Prix. We are very proud of that record. There comes a time to reassess. The only thing I can say for certain is that we will continue to participate in F1 in a meaningful and significant way."

The news, which we predicted as long ago as September last year (F1 FOREIGN REPORT, Week 39, 1995), shows that Marlboro's patience with McLaren was not limitless. It was Marlboro which engineered Ron Dennis's arrival at McLaren in September 1980, when it forced McLaren Racing into a merger with Dennis's Project 4 Racing. At the time, Marlboro was unhappy with McLaren because the team had not won a World Championship for four seasons and there had been no race wins for three years. The end of 1996 marks McLaren's fourth year without a World Championship and the third season without a race victory.

Marlboro probably did not want to break up the association after 23 years, but Dennis had protected himself against being maneuvered out by sponsor pressure. Dennis seems to have thought that he would be able to convince Marlboro to stay on - that gamble was wrong.

"We are, of course, disappointed that we were unable to reach an agreement," said Dennis. "We are certain that the team will continue to achieve the kind of successes that made the Marlboro McLaren team unique in the history of F1."

Dennis may be certain - but Marlboro clearly was not.

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