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DECEMBER 13, 2004

McLaren and Johnnie Walker

There are reports that McLaren has concluded a major new sponsorship deal with the distillery firm Diageo. The company has been talking to Formula 1 teams since last summer and recently announced plans to enter the NASCAR Nextel Cup with the championship-winning Roush Racing. Now it seems a deal has been agreed to see the company's Johnnie Walker brand replacing West as the team's title sponsor when the current sponsorship ends in the summer. It is not clear when the sponsrshp would begin but it is known that the West deal ends on July 31 2005, in line with Britain's restrictive new anti-tobacco laws. It is possible that Johnnie Walker might appear before then but that will depend on whether West's owner Imperial Tobacco is happy to leave earlier than planned. The deal is said to be worth around $68m. According to the reports the deal has been pushed hard by Diageo management under chief executive Paul Walsh, who was run the company for the last four years.

There has been a lot of discussion and indecision within Diageo about the deal which is aimed at the important Asian markets because some feel that the connection between liquor and driving is a not one that the company wishes to highlight. The NASCAR sponsorship went ahead however on the understanding that it would include a clear message about responsible drinking.