The gentle art of persuading someone else to pay for your racing — but it has its pitfalls.
The object of sponsorship, as far as competitors are concerned, is to get someone else to pay for your motor racing. Whether it be a rich daddy, a wealthy philanthropist, a garage owner, a factory, a manufacturer, or a cigarette firm they are all sponsors, and one hears a continual cry from within motor racing that without the help of sponsors there would be no motor racing. This is perfectly true, for the first sponsor appeared on the scene at the turn of the century when racing motorists were asked to drive cars that they did not own, either by a wealthy owner or by a manufacturer. From the very first motor races there must have been aspiring drivers looking for someone to lend them a car, and preferably to pay all the running expenses. While the great motorcar manufacturers were participating in motor racing a lot of drivers were “sponsored”, although they were also “employed” as racing drivers, and in one early pioneer race the factory employees were banned as they were considered to be socially unacceptable in the company of aristocratic gentlemen drivers conducting their own racing cars. Imagine Peterson, Stewart and Hulme having their entries refused because they were socially unacceptable in the company of owner-drivers! Times have changed and that rare occurrence of the gentlemen not wanting to mix with the employees did not last long.
As motor racing progressed and the industry expanded the major accessory firms joined the ranks of sponsors and petrol, oil, sparking plug, tyre firms and others joined the sponsorship bandwagon, for the trade was now both ways. The sponsors paid for the drivers racing and in return the driver attempted to win and boost the sales of his sponsor. It was only natural that financial support should at first come from the growing motor industry, but as long ago as 1924 Raymond Mays sold himself and his Brescia Bugatti to G.H. Mumin et Cie, calling his car Cordon Rouge, after their famous champagne. While his sponsors did not pay for his racing, merely supplying him with champagne in return for his advertising, they did allow him to be able to spend more money on his racing, having no drinks bill to cover! No doubt there were similar “arrangements” in motor racing long before 1924, and perhaps one day some motoring historian will dig up the advent of the first sponsor from outside the motor trade or motor industry. The number of drivers in big-time International motor racing who paid their own way must be very small indeed, for though most drivers between 1920 and 1940 were able to live comfortably by their own independent means, few of them owned the cars they raced. The sponsors or backers were very retiring and made little fuss about owning the cars, and when you dig about in history it is amazing how often you discover that an apparent private-owner racing driver was actually driving for someone else, an unknown figure in the paddock who owned the car. Some of them, like the Hon. Dorothy Paget or Woolf Barnato were well known sponsors, and the firms of Delage, Bugatti, Alfa-Romeo and so on were employing professional drivers. Admittedly many of the drivers could have afforded to buy themselves a racing car, and probably did buy their first one, but their ability soon found them sponsors to pay for their racing, in the form of factory drives.
By 1938 the great Fangio was getting sponsorship from an Argentinian hat manufacturer in races in his native country, and when he came to Europe he had sponsorship from an Argentinian shirt manufacturer. These sort of things did not pay for his racing, but they helped him to live as a racing driver, like Raymond Mays and his champagne. Motor racing has always been a pastime on which people are prepared to spend money and it has always been an activity that could be used for promoting sales, whether it was Mercedes cars in 1903 or John Player cigarettes in 1973. Since the FIA relinquished the rules about advertising on racing cars the whole business of sponsorship has snowballed and it has about as much stability as a snowball! It ranges now from the local garage supplying parts for a rally car at trade discount to big firms like John Player buying a complete racing team. Much of the small-time sponsorship which entails advertisements on cars is tied up with the driver’s own garage or business, the cost of his racing being put down to advertising in the firm’s accounts and therefore deductable from the taxable profits, an allowable and legal “fiddle”, all aimed at “someone else paying for the racing”, which is the art of sponsorship. When it becomes large and into the realms of big business there has to be tangible returns for the outlay, firms like Yardley, Marlboro, Rothmans, John Player and so on, all hoping that the resultant publicity from motor racing will sell more of their products.
It is interesting just how the effect of motor racing advertising makes an impact on the enthusiast. Without thinking you find that you begin notice brand names or commodity names because of their association with motor racing. To me a packet of tea is a packet of tea, but when I go into the grocers I automatically buy Brooke-Bond, not because I think it is particularly good tea, but I think “Oh yes, they sponsor old Hailwood, I’ll have some of that”. When it applies to a commodity I am particularly interested in, such as oil or tyres or batteries, this sponsorship “brain-washing” does not work, for I make decisions by other standards, knowing the industry. When Dunlop had a monopoly in Grand Prix racing, and every race was won on Dunlop, they were the last tyre I contemplated buying. The sponsorship-advertising brain-wash really only works when you know little or nothing about the subject. I always remember Colin Chapman telling me how his wife dragged him off to buy a television set in his early days, and he suddenly found himself surrounded by commodities of which he knew absolutely nothing. He felt terribly vulnerable and at the mercy of the salesman, a situation he did not like at all, and in a panic bought a set that was the same colour as their existing sideboard! Had this occasion been 1973, shortly after the Swedish Grand Prix, which was sponsored by Hitachi, I have no doubt as to which sort of television set he would have bought. The sponsor-advertisers do not have it all easy in their brain-washing, for this identification can back-fire on them. I was in an airport shortly after Lotus had won a Grand Prix for John Player and over the bar was a John Player clock, with the inscription “The John Player Time”. It was about 40 minutes slow compared to the airport clock on the opposite wall, and my immediate reaction was “Huh! A pity their clocks are not as efficient as their racing team”. If John Player were not sponsoring Team Lotus I do not imagine I would even have noticed the clock, and if I had I would not have bothered about it being 40 minutes slow. Most of the cigarette advertising leaves me unmoved as I am a non-smoker, but when I see the Hampshire countryside littered with empty cigarette packets I instinctively register more than usual annoyance if it is Rothmans, Marlboro, Players No. to or any other name that I associate with motor racing. Being also a non-shaver and not worried about smelling a bit dirty and oily the Yardley products are not things I buy, but when I am in someone else’s bathroom I notice that they use Yardley After-shave Lotion, whereas before they sponsored motor racing the name meant nothing to me. Discussing this business of advertising impact and motor racing with Yardley’s publicity man I made the point that I had no use for After-shave Lotion, whereas before they sponsored motor racing the name meant nothing to me. Discussing this business of advertising impact and motor racing with Yardley’s publicity man I made the point that I had no use for After-shave Lotion, so did not smell of Yardley perfume. By the next post some samples of Yardley’s Deodorant arrived; some people have a strange sense of humour.
While this sponsorship business pays for people’s motor racing they need to be a bit watchful that it does not try to control their motor racing. Fifteen to twenty years ago it was the petrol and oil companies who were the major sponsors in motor racing and apart from the fact that they brought about the outlawing of alcohol-based fuels they also wielded the big stick over contracted drivers, which is why one driver could not have a certain type of car, or another could not join a certain team and why there were some strange driver-pairings in long-distance races. Today the cigarette companies are doing the same thing, which is why Jacky Ickx was seen in one of Frank Williams’ cars at the United States GP and why Emerson Fittipaldi cannot step into a McLaren until January 1st, his John Player contract expiring on December 31st. When the petrol and oil companies controlled the destiny of motor racing it was reasonable enough, even if you did not agree with them, for at least they knew about motor racing and were an essential part of it, but if the non-motoring commodity sponsors try to control racing’s destiny I am not so sure that it is a good thing, for they have no reason to know about motor racing any more deeply than their advisers tell them. They could get motor racing into a dreadful muddle to suit their own ends and then leave it high and dry to fend for itself. Sponsors there always have been and sponsors there always will be, but there are all types of sponsors, some good and some bad, some I like and some I dislike, while there are those I feel I can trust and those I’ can’t, and the last group are those that worry me.