Best Sponsors in Formula One History

F1 sponsors history 11 photos
Photo: GP Library,courtesy of Bonhams auction house
McLaren MP4/4 Driven By Ayrton SennaMcLaren MP4/4 Driven By Ayrton SennaMcLaren MP4/4 Driven By Ayrton SennaMcLaren MP4/4 Driven By Ayrton SennaMcLaren MP4/4 Driven By Ayrton SennaWilliams F1 Red 5 FW14 Display CarScuderia Ferrari 2022 F1 car muleScuderia Ferrari 2022 F1 car muleScuderia Ferrari 2021Scuderia Ferrari 2021
Following the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) banning Uralkali as a sponsor for the Haas F1 Team, we look at the history of the connection between Formula One and sponsors.
From 1950 until 1968, Formula One cars raced in their national racing color. For example, Italian cars were painted red, British cars were painted green, etc. After 18 years, the sport's governing body agreed that sponsorship should be allowed after Shell and BP decided to withdraw. In addition, Firestone had canceled all free tires supply.

As a result, at the 1968 Monaco Grand Prix, Team Lotus painted their car in a combination of red and white, representing the Gold Leaf cigarette packets. Colin Chapman (owner of Team Lotus) signed an £85,000-a-year deal with Imperial Tobacco. As a comparison, in our days more than 300 brands are F1 sponsors, spending close to £1 billion annually.

All the teams signed a significant deal with a sponsor from that point, from tobacco and alcohol companies to even condoms companies. And thanks to Chapman's brilliant idea, we got some of the best liveries in history, like the 1988 Marlboro McLaren MP4-4 or the 1972 John Player Special Lotus. Now, let's talk about some of the more iconic F1 sponsors, as well as some of the controversies around them.

Marlboro, which is owned by Phillip Morris International, is arguably the most well-known and controversial sponsor in the history of Formula One. They were a title sponsor for McLaren from 1974 until 1996, and a title sponsor for Ferrari from 1997 unti 2006. This association gives them a pretty stellar history in the sport, having racked up 28 drivers and constructors championships as an F1 sponsor.

McLaren MP4/4 Driven By Ayrton Senna
Photo: McLaren Racing Limited
However, due to the health risks of smoking becoming well known to the public, the FIA decided to ban tobacco advertising across all international motorsport by 2006. As a piece an extra information, alcohol sponsors are forbidden as well at some races.

But Marlboro exploited some loopholes in the regulations because they are the kings of subliminal advertising. Between 2005 and 2011, it's estimated that Phillip Morris paid Ferrari $1 billion to remain their title sponsor. The red cars used a barcode instead of the logo until FIA banned that.

Until the 2021 season, Ferrari cars promoted the Phillip Morris Internationals Mission Winnow initiative, which, according to them, aims to discover new scientific solutions to transform all smokers and the people around them. Sounds sketchy, right? It's just a company that's existing - end of the story. It was a very clever marketing move from PMI.

It's the same story for McLaren and British American Tobacco. They were carrying the BATs slogan, "A better tomorrow."

Another huge sponsor for F1 was John Player Special. They collaborated with Lotus for 14 years ( 1972-1986) when F1 was full of tobacco sponsorship. Together, they won three constructors' championships and two driver's championships with Emerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti. Besides, some of the most beautiful F1 cars were born out of this collaboration.

Williams F1 Red 5 FW14 Display Car
Photo: Silverstone Auctions
Another legendary sponsor is Shell. They have been together with Ferrari since 1929, way before F1 was born. Almost 100 years of marriage. I mean, these two had a little divorce in the 80s, when Shell had an "adventure" with McLaren, but after some couple therapy, they got back together. Ferrari and Shell signed a partnership until 2030, and it's worth around $32 million, so the marriage is still going well.

In recent history, Vodafone has been a very popular sponsor. In 2002, they signed a contract with Ferrari at a time when they were winning everything together with Michael Schumacher. After that, in 2007, Vodafone became McLaren's title sponsors for almost $90 million, and again they had success. In addition, this collaboration created some of the best liveries in the last two decades.

From 1968, thousands of different sponsors have entered the world of Formula 1, but in our opinion, thee ones mentioned above were the most important and influential ones in history.
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About the author: Silvian Irimia
Silvian Irimia profile photo

Silvian may be the youngest member of our team, being born in the 2000s, but you won't find someone more passionate than him when it comes to motorsport. An automotive engineer by trade, Silvian considers the Ferrari F50 his favorite car, with the original Lamborghini Countach a close second.
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