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Motor racing to kick the habit

Following the meeting of the FIA in Seville yesterday (Wednesday) Formula 1's oldest source of commercial sponsorship, the tobacco industry, will be banished from Grand Prix racing - as with all forms of motor sport over which the FIA has jurisdiction - from the end of 2006.

In an official media statement the FIA delegates concluded that: "On entry into force of the World Health Organization's proposed Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the FIA will introduce a world-wide ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship in international motor sport from the end of the 2006 season,"

Although commercial sponsorship of racing cars had been prevalent in America for some time, corporate color schemes did not appear in Formula 1 until 1968 with the advent of Gold Leaf Team Lotus, when British Racing Green was replaced by red, white and gold. The cosmopolitan allure of Grand Prix racing drew in rival brands and for three decades Formula 1 racing cars have become synonymous with cigarette advertising as the increased television coverage of the sport has allowed tobacco giants to circumvent restrictions on advertising their products.

In recent years the search for new sources of sponsorship funding outside the now-traditional cigarette brands has become the single most important concern of Formula 1's commercial directors, with an increasingly diverse number of brands now taking title sponsorship. The increasing investment of motor manufacturers such as Ford, Fiat, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Toyota, Peugeot and Renault has been matched by an influx of information technology giants, financial institutions, telecommunication firms, media companies and general consumer names. If the success of the United States Grand Prix is assured the holy grail of Coca-Cola is also confidently expected by insiders to join in the F1 investment boom.

Nevertheless the provision of funding on such a grand scale from a single industry is unlikely to be replaced in Formula 1's future. Since 1968 only four world championships have been won without cigarette sponsorship of team or driver, and today Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, West McLaren Mercedes, Benson & Hedges Jordan, Lucky Strike BAR Honda, Gauloises Prost Peugeot and Mild Seven Benetton retain tobacco as their principal source of funding. Philip Morris, parent company of the Marlboro brand reputedly paid Michael Schumacher $10m to repaint his world famous crash helmet in the early stages of this season and it can be expected that the F1 battle is likely to become pitched in the boardrooms of major corporations as much as it is on the track in the years to come.

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