Tobacco advertising in Formula One

Automotive history Motorsport
Ayrton Senna in the 1988 Marlboro McLaren-Honda MP4/4

We all know smoking is bad for you.  No-one is debating this anymore, and hasn’t for a long time. What is debatable is the banning of tobacco advertising, given that such products remain perfectly legal for adults in virtually every country of the world. That’s highly unlikely to change any time soon, but we are not here to debate that today. What is beyond doubt is that tobacco companies provided us with some of the most stunning Formula One liveries ever seen.

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From the late 1960s until 2007, tobacco advertising was seen on countless numbers of cars, with almost every single team profiting from cigarette company sponsorship at some stage. Numerous brands graced the bodywork of Formula One cars over this forty year period, with the most famous being the JPS colours as used by Lotus for 15 years and the Marlboro livery as used by McLaren for over 20 years. Here we look at some of the best tobacco advertising liveries seen on F1 cars from across the years.

Tobacco advertising was one of the very first sponsorship brandings ever seen in Formula One. In 1968, Team Lotus rolled out its cars in the red, white and gold colours of Gold Leaf cigarettes, and the rest was history. Within months, Formula One cars had largely done away with the old-fashioned concept of national racing colours, and the cars became fast-moving billboards for tobacco advertising and other branding. Fuel and oil companies also moved in quickly, as did tyre companies and a few others. Motorsport thus became a popular way for companies to grow their brand awareness by decking out a racing car in their colours.

Tobacco Advertising in F1: the best liveries from 1968 to 2007

Gold Leaf – Lotus
JPS – Lotus
Camel – Lotus, Benetton, Williams, Tyrrell
Marlboro – McLaren, Ferrari, BRM, Alfa Romeo
West – McLaren, Zakspeed
Benson & Hedges – Jordan
Rothmans – Williams
Winfield – Williams
Lucky Strike – Lotus, BAR, Honda
Gitanes – Ligier
Gauloises – Ligier
Mild Seven – Benetton, Renault, Tyrrell
Barclay – Arrows, Williams

Interesting fact: Although tobacco companies have been banned from advertising their brands for several years, Philip Morris (owners of the Marlboro brand) remains the major sponsor of Scuderia Ferrari. However, the sponsorship no longer contains any kind of Marlboro branding and is more aimed at B2B and network development.  Marlboro is believed to pay for all of the advertising space on the entire bodywork of Ferrari’s cars, which they then sublet to other sponsors.

Rodney J. Pilkington

Superstar guest blogger Rodney J. Pilkington writes selected articles exclusively for The Car Expert, when he’s not conquering civilisations, winning various martial arts World Championships or saving Gotham City.


  1. Nice article, Rodney. You might also add that tobacco sponsorship was responsible for some of the best F1 racing of all time, in addtion to being the sport’s financial foundation for many years. You can look at the state of things now to compare – only Red Bull (pushing a product that is of questionable health benefits) seems to have enough $$$ to compete at the highest level, and supporting 2 teams! The rest seem to have limited resources, down to the newest teams some of whom look like they are starving to death and may drop out at any time. Let’s face it, since the financial crisis of a few years ago, sponsorship has been hard to come by – just ask Lotus. I thought the beer and liquor industry could fill the gap here, but perhaps they do not want to be associated with fast driving?
    Thanks again

  2. The black JPS car is the best looking F1 car ever. I had a large Tonka model of it as a kid. You could even take the wheels off with the tiny spanner provided. When it came to slot car racing it was the black JPS car every time. It must have had some effect because I went on to smoke JPS as an adult. Cigarettes are too expensive now so I’m on to rolling my own.

  3. Not only fancy livery and paint jobs but access to the latest technology regardless of the costs. Look now with half the teams crying for a spending cap since they can’t afford what Mercedes or Red Bull spend. The tobacco companies provided the mothers milk for the teams and drivers – their input has proved impossible to replace.


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