Philip Morris re-signs as tobacco drops out of F1. Discuss.

Michael Schumacher, San Marino GP 2005

Michael Schumacher, San Marino GP 2005 

 © The Cahier Archive

Tobacco sponsorship is a confusing business, even for those involved in Formula 1. What we do know for certain is that, according to European Union law, tobacco sponsorship is no longer legal and so it follows that cars should not be seen running around with tobacco branding. Come Friday morning at Monza, however, there was Jordan with Sobranie logos on the cars. A day later the logos had disappeared.

And then on Saturday night Fiat president Luca di Montezemolo announced at a Marlboro dinner that Marlboro's parent company Philip Morris is going to continue to sponsor Ferrari until 2011.

But that does not mean that Ferrari will have Marlboro sponsorship!

The explanation is that Philip Morris has long had a deal with Ferrari by which it buys the sponsorship rights for the entire car and then sub-contracts space to other sponsors. Or to put it another way, Shell and Vodafone pay Philip Morris rather than Ferrari. This appears to be a good deal for all concerned as Ferrari gets a big wedge of cash from one source and Philip Morris gets the chance to save some money by charging more than it paid for the space on the car. And if the space does not sell, Marlboro can still run its red and white boxes and black bars. If governments get tough on that, Philip Morris could always use one of its other brands, notably in the food industry, although it is hard to see the brand connection between glitzy Ferrari and Philadelphia cream cheese or Oscar Mayer hot dogs.

Philip Morris did not cede its Ferrari sponsorship without a fight but the final act came in a Monza court room on Wednesday last week when Judge Antonio Carzon considered a complaint by Codacons, an organisation which protects the rights of consumers, which asked for Ferrari to be stopped from using Marlboro branding. Carzon concluded that it was illegal for Ferrari to run Marlboro branding and for the team to wear Marlboro-branded clothing.

On the same day the team bosses were meeting in Milan where a document from the Italian ministry of finance was circulated which seemed to suggest that tobacco branding was OK.

Obviously, someone in the ministry does not understand that the executive branches of the government cannot overrule the legislature. The tobacco company lawyers were smarter.

We hear that the F1 tobacco companies have since agreed amongst themselves not to try to challenge the ban in Spain and Germany and so the only tobacco sponsorship we will now see is at non-European races. And as the World Health Organisation's anti-tobacco treaty grips more and more, even that will come to an end before too long.

Tobacco companies are smart enough to realise that fighting a lost cause is a waste of energy and could stir up more trouble. The one thing they do not want is more restriction on advertising at the point of sale or the banning of cigarette machines.

Clinging to the past is not a wise move for F1 because other sponsors are waiting for tobacco to clear out and will enter F1 when it becomes less tobacco-friendly. Trying every trick in the book to stay with tobacco only serves to make F1 seem scheming and unsavoury and that is not the kind of image that the sport needs at the moment.

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