F1’s Alcohol Sponsorship Row

F1’s Alcohol Sponsorship Row

Jean Todt, the FIA President, has come under fire over alcohol sponsorship in Formula One, as European Union plans to ban drinks advertising in sport gather pace. The move would put F1’s smallest teams under even greater threat.

It has been a bumper year for alcohol advertising in Formula One, with the return of Martini to Williams in a deal worth around £10 million, and the announcement of Johnnie Walker as the official whisky supplier of the championship. McLaren also have Johnnie Walker on the side of their car, which is thought to bring in £15 million a year. Smirnoff signed an agreement with Force India in May.

Todt and the FIA have consistently positioned themselves as ambassadors of road safety, with him having one eye on a possible job at the United Nations. But this has incensed the road safety lobby and anti-alcohol bodies, given F1’s association with alcohol brands.

In a move reminiscent of the public campaign which was fought before tobacco sponsorship was banned in the 2000s, the European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare) has written an open letter to Todt, asking for a meeting and “rapid action” from the Frenchman. Mariann Skar, secretary general of the body, wrote: “When considering the continued destructive prevalence of drink-driving, permitting the mixed messages presented in alcohol sponsorship of F1 seems ever more inappropriate given the total viewing audience of 500 million.”

The alliance of 57 public health bodies across 25 European countries added: “[We are] deeply concerned about the heavy marketing exercise seen in Formula 1 and [are] therefore requesting an urgent change.”

Eurocare even claimed that F1 may already be in breach of several EU directives, as it begins a concerted attempt to persuade the new European Commission to ban alcohol advertising in sport. The letter goes on: “Allowing [it] in F1 seems to contradict many official guidelines for the marketing of alcohol. It runs against the EU Directive which states that marketing for the consumption of alcohol should not be linked to driving. Moreover, the current association between alcohol and driving does not seem to fall in the category of ‘the widespread promotion of responsible drinking messages’.”

It will lobby questions in the European Parliament and hold an event there on the subject next year. Eurocare has also invited David Ward — the bitter former presidential rival of Todt — to speak at a conference.

The FIA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Daniel Johnson