In this month: January 1968

Sponsorship appears in Grand Prix racing

Since the dawn of motor racing a spectator’s allegiance to a team or driver had been assisted by national racing colours. Where would a D-type be without its distinctive British Racing Green? Could a German Mercedes be anything other than a Silver Arrow, or – heaven forbid – an Italian race car be daubed in anything other than Rosso Corsa? But this national identity ended for the 1968 season as full commercial sponsorship arrived.

Sponsorship appears in Grand Prix racing

Sponsorship appears in Grand Prix racing

For a few years before then there had been some small stickers on GP cars: owners’ companies, suppliers of free spark plugs, favoured fuel and so on. Overall, though, the cars were uniformly coloured according to country of origin or where the team resided. Everyone knew where they were and national pride could be expressed.

But, ever the businessman, Lotus’s Colin Chapman saw a sponsorship opportunity and single-handedly changed the look of F1 racing for ever. He went into partnership with Imperial Tobacco and its cigarette brand, Gold Leaf. This venture was not welcomed by many in the racing world: it seemed to be changing the face of the sport they loved, and also seemed unpatriotic. Chapman explained his motives in a speech announcing the partnership.

‘In these difficult times, British prestige and sales efforts at home and abroad need every possible support and encouragement. It is therefore encouraging to us all that John Player & Sons should have come forward in this truly patriotic fashion to support our racing activities as co-entrants…’

Many of the ‘old school’, he said, complained to him that motor racing was being spoiled for commercial gain, but Chapman extolled the benefits. After all, he said, motor racing was expensive and he also wanted to sell his road cars.

That Gold Leaf Team Lotus livery seems entirely normal now, as do cigarette liveries that followed from JPS Lotus, Marlboro McLaren, Mild Seven Benetton, Gitanes Ligier, Marlboro Ferrari and others. Cigarette advertising on GP cars was banned in 2006 – but plenty of other products have rushed in to take the place of the smokes.

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