What has happened to Formula One? Once upon a time it used to be filled with all sorts of volatile personalities who, in between two-week pleasure binges at the Tokyo Hilton and dyeing their hair the latest shade of anti-corporate, occasionally turned up at some exotic location to drive a racing car at breakneck speed.
Bugger the results, just watching and reading about the antics of antiheroes such as James Hunt, Nelson Piquet and Jacques Villeneuve was reason enough to spend every other Sunday glued to our television sets. But not anymore. Thanks to a tsunami of professionalism, members of the world’s most elite motorsport club have basically transformed into the fastest PR officers our planet has ever known.
Conformity has taken the place of character and now Nico Rosberg and his lifeless ilk do nothing but pander to their billion-dollar sponsors. It’s like the greatest driver never to win the World Championship, Sir Stirling Moss, says: “In my day, the drivers used to go out and chase girls after a race. These days, they thank Vodafone.”
It’s a similar story when it comes to their charges. For not only are Formula One’s latest cars more or less death-proof, the names slapped across their jet-like bodies have become annoyingly clean-living and unsexy. In fact if it weren’t for Red Bull, there’d be nothing but banking, semiconductor and telecom logos.
It never used to be like this, mind. Back in the day before nanny states and anti-smoking lobbies existed, Formula One was the most dangerous sport in existence. It was a vibrant, edgy and violent arena in which to play, and consequently attracted brands that tended towards a similar mindset. From cigarettes and sex to bar-loads of booze, here are just a few of the risqué labels and liveries that the sport would eventually go on to leave behind.
The Car: Lotus 49
The Brand: Golf Leaf
The year was 1968 and Lotus, one of the most successful British outfits ever to race within the realms of Formula One, was in dire need of money. It just so happened that Gold Leaf cigarettes were also looking to grow their publicity, so a deal was hatched between the two and Colin Chapman’s racing cars were soon lining up on the Monaco starting grid wearing the firm’s distinctive red, cream and gold livery. The first major sponsorship deal ever to rock the annals of Formula One history, this corporate handshake basically tarred the way for future tobacco brands such as Marlboro, Mild Seven, West and B&H.
The Car: EuroBrun ER189
The Brand: Jägermeister
Probably one of the most useless constructors to ever find their way onto an official Formula One entry list, EuroBrun were the pit lane laughing stock from 1988 to 1990. Already bad in their debut season, they quickly joined the ranks of the diabolical when they failed to qualify for even one race in 1989. Be this as it may, the team somehow managed to attract the interests of shooter kings Jägermeister. Being emblazoned in the booze brand’s bright orange livery may have helped EuroBrun look the business, but they still failed to score a single championship point in their embarrassingly short F1 career.
Yep, for the first time ever, Germany’s most famous digestif failed to get the party started.
The Car: Hesketh 308D
The Brand: Penthouse & Rizla
There’s never been a Formula One team more outlandish than the now defunct Hesketh Racing. Founded in 1972 by an eccentric 21-year-old lord of the same name, this ragtag group of automotive rule-breakers gained infamy by attracting more grid girls than mechanics, and consuming more champagne than their racing cars did petrol. Refusing to “sell out” to the conventions of corporate sponsorship, Hesketh funded the team privately until 1976. After losing interest, his lordship left the team to his partner, who set about procuring money from girly magazine Penthouse, and “cigarette” rolling-paper giant, Rizla. With sponsorship, Formula One’s bad boys kept on raising eyebrows until 1978.
The Car: Surtees TS19
The Brand: Durex
Just in case you don’t know, John Surtees is the only man to have ever won World Championships on both four and two wheels. A talented driver from the Golden Age of motorsport, he started his own Formula One team — Surtees Racing — in 1970. Truth be told it wasn’t very successful and, fielding second-rate machinery on a shoestring budget, the team failed to finish within the top five constructors before bowing out at the end of 1978. Fortunately the outfit did enjoy some time in the media sun after they got a scandalous sponsorship deal from condom manufacturer Durex. In fact, this caused such a public furore that the BBC withdrew their TV cameras from all pre-season, non-championship British races in 1976.
The Car: Brabham BT44B
The Brand: Martini & Rossi
When it comes to the world of hard liquor, few names are more synonymous with motor racing than Martini & Rossi. Though renowned for their vermouth, this Italian distillery created a massive stir on the international motorsport scene by sponsoring some of the biggest names in rally, sports car and Formula One. The brand’s shining moment in the latter came during the 1975 season when their blue and red livery licked the white bodywork of Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team. Adorning the BT44B, designed by South African Gordon Murray, death-cheating drivers such as Carlos Reutemann and Carlos Pace drove their helmets off to put the team second in the constructor’s championship. – Thomas Falkiner