MARLBORO: THE TABOO ICON OF FORMULA 1

Since joining forces with BRM in 1972, Philip Morris’ Marlboro cigarette brand capitalised upon opportunities few others saw, with great returns being realised shortly after the brand’s move into Formula 1. From here, the company has achieved remarkable success, cementing itself in F1 history as the sport’s most iconic and arguably most adaptable sponsor.

Right off the bat Marlboro was making waves in the sport, most notably at the French launch of BRM whereby the red and white P160 emerged from an oversized Marlboro cigarette box. The tobacco brand achieved widespread exposure from the unveiling in France and was unknowingly about to embark on a journey which would see it as a prominent figure in F1 right up to the present day (through various identities and branding alterations might I add).

Nevertheless, it wasn’t until Jean-Pierre Beltoise took victory at the 1972 Monaco Grand Prix that Marlboro had its first taste of success on track. Unfortunately this would be the brand’s one and only win with BRM, and ties were cut in 1974 when a move to McLaren was made; a partnership which would last 23 years (1974-96) – longer than any other sponsorship deal between team and title sponsor in F1 history.

Credit: LAT Photographic

The famous red and white livery made its way up the grid to McLaren for the start of 1974, in a season which would see Marlboro McLaren win the constructors’ title and Emerson Fittipaldi take the drivers title, all in the first year of partnership. One more drivers title followed in 1976 in the hands of the popular driver-socialite James Hunt, before Marlboro McLaren faced a dry-spell on the racetrack.

Formula 1 is no stranger to periods of single team dominance, with the likes of Ferrari’s early 2000s campaign as well as the current era of Mercedes supremacy coming to mind. However, for Marlboro’s partnership with McLaren the show would not end with Hunt. In fact, the 1970s championship victories were merely a precursor for what was to follow.

In 1980 Ron Dennis joined McLaren and began to re-shape the team. In his first season they started to win races once again, and more notably Dennis was able to convince 2-time World Champion Niki Lauda to return to the track. The arrival of the MP4/2 was the final push required by the team to achieve a state of domination over the rest of the grid, not to mention its all-star driver line-up consisting of Lauda and 1984 signing Alain Prost. Marlboro McLaren would reign supreme in the latter half of the ‘80s, with Lauda, Prost and the prodigious Ayrton Senna winning all-but-one of the Drivers’ Championships from 1984-91. The red and white cars were unbeatable, notably in 1988 where the MP4/4 won 15 out of the championship’s 16 races, a success rate of 93.8% which makes the Honda powered car the most successful in the sport to date. The resulting Increase in Japanese F1 coverage led to significant market growth for Marlboro in the Land of the Rising Sun, as the Honda powered cars dominated the sport.

Despite achieving what others could only dream of, this wasn’t enough for Philip Morris’ tobacco brand. Marlboro had always set its sights on Ferrari – a presumption confirmed by official internal documents – for the company saw the red car of the Scuderia as the perfect billboard for its red and white cigarette branding. Marlboro marketing had appeared as a minor sponsor on Ferrari’s F1 cars from 1984, but under the reign of “il Commendatore” no brands other than technical suppliers were allowed to appear on his cars as major sponsors. So it wasn’t until 1991 that Marlboro announced an official partnership with Ferrari.

After the departure of Ayrton Senna from McLaren at the end of the 1993 season, Marlboro McLaren never won another race, and the tobacco brand called it quits (ironically) in ‘96, focussing 100% of its resources on Ferrari where it soon became the official title sponsor. The team was even renamed "Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro" ahead of the ’97 season. Marlboro’s move to the Italian marque was perhaps the greatest marketing decision the tobacco company ever made, as the brand became synonymous with the red cars of F1, cementing itself as a title sponsor through the dominant years of Michael Schumacher at the turn of the century. Schumacher would win the drivers title from 2000-04 in some of the sport’s most iconic cars; the F2002 and the F2004. Unsurprisingly these wore the Marlboro colours in full view.

 

Success was not straightforward however, and over the years Marlboro demonstrated the capacity to innovate and re-evaluate its marketing techniques. Stringent anti-tobacco laws were developing at the beginning of the 1990s, particularly in Europe, and the most prevalent sponsors of the time – including Marlboro – had to make radical changes if they were to remain in the sport. The most notable of all was the barcode design which the brand introduced in the Marlboro McLaren era. Originally comprised of 7 vertical stripes, the idea was developed throughout the ‘90s and into the Ferrari partnership, where the barcode itself took on a modernised appearance. Throughout the F1 season, teams were required to remove any tobacco advertising from the cars in countries where anti-tobacco laws were in place, with brands opting for alternative designs – such as the barcode – or in some instances leaving their area of the car completely blank, instead replacing traditional logos with redacted editions - a white space in the case of Marlboro. 

By the time Ferrari signed an extension of 6 years to its contract with Marlboro in 2005, tobacco sponsorship had been banned in the whole of the European Union. Many teams decided to end their affiliation with tobacco brands as the majority of the season was to be held in Europe. Marlboro thus relied on largely subliminal advertising from there on, with the final barcode removed from the cars entirely in 2010 despite remaining on team gear.

The latest iteration of tobacco sponsorship came at the start of the 2018 season, as Philip Morris signed a further 3-year extension with Ferrari, unveiling a car which advertised “Mission Winnow”. Unknown to all, this later transpired as a subsidiary of Philip Morris. With much speculation surrounding the legality of this proxy advertising for Marlboro, the "MW" branding was axed for the majority of the 2019 season as 11 of the 21 races took place in areas of anti-tobacco law. Time will tell whether or not Ferrari will wear the name at any time this year.

Marlboro has held a place in the sport for several decades, and whilst currently advertised under another name, it is still very much present. The cigarette brand has been a part of the sport’s most iconic moments. Its liveries have been worn by some of F1s most iconic cars. Its name has been plastered across the helmets of legends and its iconic red-roof logo has been worn on the podium by the sport’s finest drivers. Marlboro has become a true icon of Formula 1 regardless of one's stance on smoking, and has been pivotal in assisting the legacy of constructors and drivers alike. To think of a future sponsor which will have as much of a monumental impact upon F1 as has Marlboro is near impossible.

The first instalment of our FW20 collection takes heavy inspiration from vintage logos synonymous with motorsport. Our SW28. sweatshirt has been inspired by the Marlboro logo which plastered the F1 cars we grew up watching, evoking a sense of nostalgia amongst fellow motorsport fans, whilst instantly recognisable amongst others. Of course, we added our “Live Fast” moto and signature branded patch, whilst also giving the sweatshirt a warmer tone through the use of ecru/off-white rather than stark white. This makes the SW28. perfect for summer and winter months alike.

 

1 comment


  • Usmaan

    Great read


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