British American Tobacco returns to Formula One with McLaren

Ex-team owner to promote electronic smoking alternatives through global deal.

British American Tobacco returns to Formula One with McLaren

Getty Images

Former Formula One team owner British American Tobacco (BAT) is set to return to the sport for the first time in 13 years through a multi-year global partnership with McLaren.

The multinational cigarette and tobacco manufacturing company, which withdrew from the global motorsport series in 2006, when tobacco advertising was banned from the sport, will leverage the deal to promote its electronic smoking alternatives.

McLaren said the partnership is ‘focused solely’ on BAT’s reduced risk products, with the tobacco giant’s vaping brands to be emblazoned on the team’s race cars. 

The tie-up will also have an emphasis on technology, with McLaren Applied Technologies set to work with BAT on areas including battery technology and advanced materials, while the two parties will also share best practice.

“We welcome BAT to the McLaren team and support their ambition of delivering meaningful and lasting change through innovation,” said Zak Brown, chief executive of McLaren Racing. “BAT’s transformation agenda is central to this partnership and we are pleased to share our technical experience and expertise in helping to accelerate this.”

BAT ended all sports sponsorship in 2006 after a Europe-wide crackdown on tobacco advertising in sports. The company’s involvement in Formula One had seen it run the British American Racing (BAR) team between 1999 and 2005 before it became Honda Racing in 2006.

“We’re extremely proud and excited about this new partnership, further enabling us to accelerate the pace at which we innovate and transform ourselves,” added BAT’s chief marketing officer, Kingsley Wheaton. ”It gives us a truly global platform with which to drive greater resonance of our potentially reduced risk products, including our Vype, Vuse and glo brands.”

BAT’s branding will be visible on McLaren’s livery during the Australian Grand Prix, which kicks off the new Formula One season on 17th March.

The McLaren deal comes with Philip Morris (PM), a partner of the British team’s rival Ferrari, being forced to defend itself over the Mission Winnow sponsorship programme.

The Mission Winnow name and logo appeared on Ferrari’s cars at last year's Japanese Grand Prix promoting PM’s smoke-free alternative products. Now, a month out from the season-opener in Melbourne, Australia’s Department of Health and Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services have launched an investigation as to the compliance of the branding with the country’s advertising laws.

PM’s international director of communication, Tommaso di Giovanni, told "The initiative and the symbols and logos used on the livery of the Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow and the website comply with the laws that apply to our activities in Australia and the State of Victoria.

"We are aware of the debate on Mission Winnow in Australia and we are working with the organisers of the local grand prix to understand the concerns of the authorities and give them an answer.”