Up in smoke: end of the Marlboro money that lit up F1


With Marlboro bringing down the curtain on its title sponsorship of Ferrari, in our latest edition Mark Hughes charts the cigarette brand's 50 years of F1 involvement

David Coulthard, Mika Häkkinen, McLaren-Mercedes MP4/11, Grand Prix of San Marino, Imola, 05 May 1996. (Photo by Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images)

Marlboro: synonymous with F1 after a 50-year association

Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images

Now more than ever, Formula 1 is focused on portraying itself as progressive and green – technology-driven and aiming to do its bit to help the world.

As Mark Hughes writes in the latest edition of Motor Sport though, it wasn’t always like this – our grand prix editor has charted the course of Phillip Morris’s hugely lucrative and successful involvement in Formula 1, via its then-world No1 brand Marlboro. Scroll down to view our ‘Marlboro in Formula 1: Through the ages’ gallery.

From the archive

With Phillip Morris’ title sponsorship of Ferrari finally ending in 2022, it brings to a close the intertwined 50-year journey of F1 and Marlboro – for now.

It was a period when giants walked the earth, F1 legends were made and grand prix cars often really did represent cigarette cartons on four wheels. Motor racing purportedly represented a hedonistic and carefree world powered by individualism, with Marlboro intending to bask in this glorious image.

The cigarette manufacturer’s premier brand first entered motor racing’s top-tier with BRM in 1972, the company announcing itself with a typically understated PR stunt of an F1 car exploding out of a gigantic Marlboro packet.

Jean-Pierre Beltoise in the BRM P160B finishing 15th at the French GP at Clermont-Ferrand, France, 2 July 1972. (Photo by: GP Library/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Entry into grand prix racing came with BRM

GP Library/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

“We could see that advertising was coming to an end and we needed [another way] to make ourselves visible,” said John Hogan, the Marlboro marketing man who brought the brand into grand prix racing. “F1 was a way of doing that on the international stage. We were trying to do it before the black curtain came down.”

Two years later and the brand leapt ship to McLaren, forming one of the most iconic team and sponsor combinations in sporting history. Though Emerson Fittipaldi was the first driver to take a title in the brand’s colours – the company funding his move from Lotus – it was James Hunt who would first become ingrained in the public’s consciousness as a champion driver decked out in particular shades of red and white.

The world’s fastest forty-a-day smoker – often seen post-race with a cigarette in one hand, beer in the other and glamorous female by his side – was exactly what Marlboro strove to embody: the freewheeling thrill-chaser who knew what he wanted.

However, as Hughes highlights, Marlboro would soon become associated with a McLaren team completely transformed after its takeover by Ron Dennis.

“Dennis-era McLaren in the 1980s, with its cutting-edge carbon fibre cars, […] were piloted to world titles by Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.

“Hogan, who worked hand-in-glove with Dennis, was the crucial early benefactor. It was an evocative image – the Marlboro orange-red shimmering out of the heat haze, first past the chequer again and again. And like that, Dennis built an F1 team which redefined the scale, leaving the rest spluttering to keep up, with Dennis leaving Hogey spluttering each year as he ramped up the required sum for his next conquest.”

After McLaren’s winning of F1’s riches, it was Ferrari’s turn to be seduced. The Scuderia had entertained Marlboro as a sponsor since 1984, but when the latter finally split from McLaren and became Ferrari title-sponsor in ’97, forevermore would its colours be associated with the Schumacher-Todt–Brawn axis which brought five consecutive title doubles between ’00 and ’04.

Jochen Mass, James Hunt, Jody Scheckter, Grand Prix of Germany, Nurburgring, 01 August 1976. Moody atmosphere after winning the German Grand Prix, where Niki Lauda nearly lost his life in an accident. (Photo by Bernard Cahier/Getty Images)

James Hunt embodied the freewheeling, charismatic image Marlboro was seeking

Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

Hughes illustrates the influence of Marlboro at the Italian team:

“So vast were its resources it would come to effectively supplant Fiat as the race team’s parent. The Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro’s management often recruited personnel from Philip Morris’s base and worked in conjunction with the company’s management.

“So strong was the visual association of  the Marlboro insignia that it almost didn’t matter when tobacco advertising was banned from the cars in Europe in 2010. Strategic use of the Marlboro chevron and later of a barcode on the engine cover made the visual reference obvious without spelling out any name.”

It couldn’t last forever though, and after the slightly botched Mission Winnow branding of the last few years – there to market PMI’s smoke-free products apparently designed to initiate “positive change in society” – it has now been announced that the company will no longer be Ferrari’s title sponsor. Up the grid, then up in smoke.

Read Mark Hughes’ full article in our new issue here.