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OCTOBER 26, 2004

Formula 1's next big fight

On July 31, 2005 all Formula 1 teams with any link to the United Kingdom will have to stop running their cars with tobacco sponsorship, whether they want to do so or not. If the British Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act of 2002 goes ahead with any changes then any organization based in Britain must desist immediately from any involvement in any business which is intended to promote the sale of tobacco products in the UK. This means not just the Formula 1 team but also the TV companies and written media.

The Formula 1 team bosses say that there is not a problem because the law was not meant to do what it is doing and that it will be changed, but there does not seem to be much evidence of this happening beyond a few ministers murmuring that it is not what it was supposed to be. Private whispers and public promises are two different things and with plenty of active anti-tobacco groups in the UK, the possibility of simply letting the law slide is not really an option.

Bernie Ecclestone is very clear about his views on the subject.

"If the law is not changed, we will just have an F1 blackout in Britain," he said.

This would be a boom for BBC's Radio 5 coverage of the sport but a disaster for ITV, which recently agreed a massive new deal to cover the sport.

Ecclestone says that the new Act would mean that there could not even be photographic coverage of F1 in the UK because air-brushing out sponsors would be distorting the branding of companies involved and they could sue anyone who did that. The only option for media companies therefore would be to refuse to run any pictures about the sport.