West and McLaren

The current sponsorship deal between McLaren and West has been going on since the German tobacco company joined the team in 1996 after the departure of Marlboro to Ferrari. The initial West McLaren deal was for five years between 1997 and 2001 but this was later extended although it is not entirely clear when the current deal ends. Our sources say it is at the end of 2003.

The interesting thing is that in March last year West was sold by the German tobacco company Reemtsma to Britain's Imperial Tobacco for $5.1 billion. Imperial was the first Formula 1 sponsor of any kind, entering the sport with Team Lotus in the summer of 1968 with its Gold Leaf brand. Its John Player Special brand later became one of the strongest brands in F1 history but in recent years the company has steered clear of Grand Prix racing.

We are hearing that from Britain that Imperial Tobacco may not wish to extend the West deal after the end of next year. It is worth noting that the company's sponsorship of Sito Pons's motorcycle team is also thought to be coming to an end. It is not clear whether an official decision has yet been taken by West but the rumours are strong. The withdrawal of West would be a blow to McLaren but the team has a strong marketing department and its close links with Mercedes-Benz will do no harm at all.

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