Formula 1 has always attracted sponsors with controversial products, whether cigarettes or alcohol. The laws now prohibit the display of brands of cigarettes on a single seater, but these products are now being replaced by the logos of vaping, sports betting or cryptocurrency companies… as the lure of profit still takes precedence over virtue today.
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The Swiss company Eighty-One Powerdrink sponsored the Sauber-Alfa Romeo F1 team in 2021. The daily The press reported last year that one of the founders and owners of this energy drink brand was a Hells Angels from Switzerland. Eighty-One (“81” in English) is associated with the group of bikers. The eighth and first letter of the alphabet, “H” and “A”, are the initials of “Hells Angels”. The Eighty One logo was featured on the team’s cars and driver Kimi Raikkonen wore it on his team kit.
Drinking alcohol and driving don’t go together. This does not prevent F1 from attracting beer and wine producers as sponsors. This is the case with Singha, a Thai brewery that sponsors Alfa Romeo, or Ferrari Trento, the Italian sparkling wine that drivers spray onto the podium.
In a sign that the link between alcohol and driving is controversial, Dutch Heineken and Italian-born Peroni brewery are now opting to promote their non-alcoholic beers at races.
It may seem natural that the companies that supply the fuel for F1 cars would sponsor these events. However, the oil industry is the subject of several criticisms, mainly related to its impact on the environment, both in terms of greenhouse gases and spills.
Some companies, such as Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state oil company, or Shell, have been denounced by human rights defenders. Other allegations of corruption, greenwashing and tax evasion plague this industry.
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Sports betting platforms have been swarming over the last few years. It is therefore not surprising that F1 is associated with it. Asia tour sponsor 188BET is based in the Isle of Man, a British Crown Dependency. It is one of the worst jurisdictions in the world when it comes to tax evasion.
In 2021, the organization Tax Justice estimated that this area, sandwiched between England and Northern Ireland, caused the loss of around US$4 billion in tax revenue to other countries.
Additionally, in January, the Redbull stable announced that they had partnered with online gaming platform Pokerstars, which boasts of being “the most epic casino in the world”. The head office is based in Ireland, a country also known for its favorable taxation.
Marlboro, Player’s, Camel… the relationship between tobacco companies and F1 is a long-standing and lucrative one. Although F1 banned tobacco advertising in 2006, some manufacturers have since got creative to stay in the game.
In fact, tobacco companies use legal loopholes that allow McLaren, for example, to sponsor Vuse, a vape marketed by British American Tobacco.
Until last year, Ferrari cars bore the logo of Mission Winnow, a subsidiary of tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris. The latter argued that Mission Winnow was an ideas laboratory aimed at advancing thought about smoking, but his critics saw it as a way for the tobacco company to sidestep advertising rules.
The tobacco giant and the team even signed a new agreement in May 2022, making Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto “very proud”, the website Motorsport.com is quoted as saying.
Cryptocurrencies are widely used on the underground network to buy and sell stolen weapons, organs, drugs, and personal information. Like Bitcoin, these virtual currencies enable transactions to be completed without the intermediary of a bank and thus provide a certain degree of anonymity.
Despite the trading’s bad reputation, F1 and its teams have partnered with lucrative cryptocurrency exchanges in recent years.