There is a long-standing but tricky relationship between motor racing and alcohol that continues to thrive despite efforts by the World Health Organisation and others to outlaw the promotion of any so-called ‘sin substance’; as they have with tobacco. Although clearly the consumption of alcohol is incompatible with driving and racing safely, let’s take a look at some of the ways that they have happily and successfully co-existed.
An American tale
One of the most popular motor racing series in the world is the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing - otherwise known as NASCAR. Whilst NASCAR has moved things on considerably, the origins of stock car racing lie with the “bootleggers” and “moonshine runners” of the Prohibition era in the USA during the 1920s and early ‘30s.
Illegally-distilled whiskey and other alcoholic drinks needed to be distributed quickly and out of reach of law enforcement. Drivers would modify ordinary (stock) cars to give them greater speed and superior handling; all the better to outrun the police or, when alcohol was re-legalised, the taxman.
By the late ‘40s, no longer needed for “runnin’ ‘shine”, these cars began to be used for show races. Such was their popularity that a profitable business grew up around them and led to the founding of NASCAR in 1948.
Show me the money
Before 1968, international motor racing teams tended to paint their cars in the historic competition colours of the nation where the team was based. Blue for France, red for Italy, silver for Germany, dark green for Great Britain and so on.
The success of commercial sponsorship liveries in the US and the withdrawal of financial support from some of their key supplier brands, convinced the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) to allow teams to do likewise and tap a rich source of much needed funding.
What started with tobacco companies, soon caught the attention of distillers and brewers. The appeal of sponsorship was easy to see; the bravery of the drivers and their glamorous lifestyles for product endorsement along with great opportunities for event hospitality.
Add to that a global television audience who would see their brands depicted on a 200 mph billboard every two weeks and it’s a very attractive marketing proposition.
Whilst there are several unforgettable racing liveries attributed to tobacco products - think Gold Leaf, JPS, Marlboro, Rothmans and so on - there are a few alcohol brands which have also achieved iconic motorsport status through memorable liveries or competition success, or ideally both.
One of a couple worth mentioning is German digestif Jӓgermeister, who from the early 1970s sponsored both BMWs and Porsches in touring car and sports car championships as well as a brief foray into Formula One with the March team. Their bright orange livery, with their gothic-script Jӓgermeister and stag trademark made their team easy to pick out among the field.
Being based in Turin in northern Italy, it was almost inevitable that distillers Martini & Rossi should get involved in automotive sports, and although it was an Alfa Romeo from Milan that the company first sponsored, it wasn’t even an Italian car that first bore the actual branding of their ‘Martini’ vermouth.
Raced and rallied
In April 1968, sportscar championship team Scuderia Lufthansa Racing ran a silver Porsche 910 and, in return for overalls and other team equipment, they placed prominent Martini stickers on each side of the car. Later in the year, Martini Racing themselves entered a pair of Porsche 907s in a number of minor races to support the Porsche factory’s efforts.
The Porsche-Martini relationship was further strengthened during the 1970s when they developed the iconic dark blue, light blue and red stripes and campaigned Martini-liveried cars in both Sports and GT car classes, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans outright in 1971. A Martini-sponsored Porsche 911 Carrera RSR also took first place in the Targa Florio road endurance race of 1973.
The 1980s saw Martini form another highly successful association, this time with their Turin neighbours Lancia; applying the distinctive stripes to their all conquering works team rally cars, the 037, Delta S4 and Integrale.
Martini had an unsuccessful tie-up with the Tecno Formula One team in the early ‘70s but returned a few years later to cloak Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham BT44 and BT45 cars with only a little more success. Another three years on and they returned again, just for a year, applying their stripes to a dark green Lotus, which wasn’t successful, aesthetically or race-wise.
After focusing on rallying with Lancia and then Ford, Martini ventured back into Formula One with a nose-cone sticker on the 2006 Ferrari cars of Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa. That year the Ferrari team were pipped to both championships by Fernando Alonso and Renault.
A formula for success
In 2014, Williams Martini Racing saw the coloured stripes once again brand the whole car as title sponsor. The iconic livery’s return was warmly greeted by its enthusiastic fans and racing success came too with a third place in the Constructors’ Championship two years running followed by a fifth the subsequent two years.
As time has gone on, fewer and fewer Formula One teams have worn alcoholic drinks brand liveries, and even Martini quit after the 2018 season. Now in 2020 only three teams even carry alcohol logos on board: Alpha Tauri has Moose Cider, Alfa Romeo displays Singha beer and McLaren shows Estrella Garcia beer - although it’s their non-alcoholic 0,0 offering that is promoted.
Sauce for the gander
If sponsorship worked well for the race teams, the various race series extended the opportunity to other organisations involved. Race promoters and circuit owners may not provide the main focus of the television coverage, but they do control what is in the background of the shot, so why not get the drinks brands to sponsor the race, or the circuit?
Hoardings and banners for Fosters, Johnnie Walker and Heineken have featured prominently across racing circuits in Formula One for some years. Heineken is still heavily involved and is the title sponsor of two races in this year’s much-amended programme.
Vive la différence
Clearly, the laws in the host country dictate whether alcohol sponsorship is allowed and teams have had to switch parts of their liveries between races if moving from a liberal country to what they call a ‘dark market’. It wasn’t just their race cars either but trucks, hospitality units and team uniforms which had to comply.
France is one of those dark markets where advertising of alcohol is forbidden at sporting events, thanks to their Evin law of 1991. However, there is something of an irony when the Formula One circus arrives in the South of France in Le Castellet and sets up their show at Circuit Paul Ricard, which was built by and is named after the man behind the world-famous Ricard pastis drink!
Celebrating the win
A fitting way to round off our alcohol-fuelled ramble through motorsport is at the winner’s podium ceremony. After the French Grand Prix of 1950 at the circuit near Reims, a city long-associated with champagne producers, the winner was awarded a bottle of the premium sparkling wine as a prize for the first time.
Inspired by a previous winner inadvertently spraying the crowd due to the bottle becoming over pressurised in the sunshine, American Dan Gurney deliberately shook his Jeroboam of Moet & Chandon after winning the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans. He soaked his co-driver AJ Foyt, everyone else nearby including Carroll Shelby and started a popular winner’s tradition.
What better way is there to demonstrate that classic racing spirit?