It’s twenty years since McLaren last won the Formula 1 World Championship titles with Mika Häkkinen and its V10- engined McLaren-Mercedes MP4/15. Those cars looked very cool in their silver-grey and black livery, with one
tone faded into another to, as Ron Dennis explained, “Get away from outdated stripes”. The cars were sponsored by West, a cigarette brand – something for which I’m told addicts actually paid money, only to stick it in their mouths and set fire to it, which I have never understood – and by Mobil, a properly connected automotive fuel and lubricant company producing, in stark contrast to West, something useful.
Of the 11 teams then contesting F1, tobacco brands were funding six: McLaren, Ferrari (Marlboro), Jordan-Mugen-Honda (Benson & Hedges), Benetton (backed by Mild Seven), BAR-Honda (Lucky Strike) and Prost-Peugeot (Gauloises). Jaguar Racing made its debut in Grand Prix competition, which Ford-Jaguar’s promotions people, with purblind stupidity, inferred was in fact the legendary marque’s ‘comeback’, whereas William Lyons had considered F1 racing in the early 1950s only to dismiss it in an instant. Not so much ‘The Jaguar is Back’ as ‘The Jaguar is Here For The First Time’.