British teams face tobacco crisis

David Richards is warning that new British legislation over tobacco sponsorship could be "a disaster" for British motor racing as it could drive the Formula 1 teams abroad. The British legislation could expose tobacco-sponsored teams based in Britain to prosecution if images of the cars, from anywhere in the world, are broadcast on British television screens.

McLaren's Ron Dennis says that McLaren does not believe that there will be any problems with the new British law, which comes into force in the middle of next year. Dennis did not say why he felt that the sport would not be covered by the law but was confident that it will not be a problem.

But Richards says it is "a major concern to me and it should be a major concern to everyone involved in Formula 1 now because the knock-on effect will be significant. Because we are a British team, because we are based in England and because our sponsor is based in England, we could not run cigarette advertising in China. Foreign-based teams outside the UK with foreign sponsors can do it. It's completely prejudicial to British Formula 1 teams."

The law will effect anyone "carrying on business" in the UK and states that "a person who is party to a sponsorship agreement is guilty of an offence if the purpose or effect of anything done as a result of the agreement is to promote a tobacco product in the United Kingdom". This includes the broadcasting of events from other places around the world.

In other words there is a threat to anyone based in Britain who is racing anywhere in the world in the knowledge that tobacco logos will be seen on TV in Britain.

The penalties for this can be as high as two years in prison.

Four teams are going to be affected by this: BAR, Jordan, McLaren and Renault as they are all based in the UK. The fifth tobacco-funded team is Ferrari in Italy, while Jaguar, Minardi, Sauber, Toyota and Williams are not funded at all by the tobacco industry.

If the law stands as it now is, team principals could end up in jail if they run tobacco logos on their cars after July 31 2005. The only way around this would be to relocate the teams outside the UK.

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