BMW Williams calls on F1 to retain races in EU

The BMW Williams Formula One team has broken ranks with the rest of the sport by calling for its governing body to abandon plans for races to be moved outside the European Union .

The team, which last month signed an estimated £9m deal with GlaxoSmithKline for the NiQuitin CQ smoking cessation brand to adorn its cars and drivers (Marketing, April 17), believes the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) is doing too much to appease tobacco brands that wish to retain a presence in the sport.

Under plans announced recently, the FIA is challenging the European Union's plans for a ban on tobacco sponsorship during the 2005 season because some teams have already signed deals lasting until the end of 2006, the previously anticipated deadline.

As a result, the governing body is warning that some EU races may be moved to countries where there are fewer restrictions on tobacco marketing, such as the Middle East, Far East and Africa.

But Jim Wright, marketing director of BMW Williams and the man behind the team's deal with GSK, said the FIA is neglecting the teams which do not have any tobacco sponsors.

"Only half the teams rely on funding from tobacco firms," he said. "We have shown the way by signing this NiQuitin CQ deal, which is the sport's biggest for a long time, and to move races from their traditional venues just to allow tobacco sponsorship to continue would be wrong.

Ferrari, which is sponsored by Philip Morris' Marlboro brand, Lucky Strike-backed BAR Honda, and Jordan Ford, which is supported by Gallaher's Benson & Hedges, are among the major recipients of tobacco cash.

Despite the continuing attractiveness of F1 as a global sport, some sports marketers believe it will be difficult to replace the estimated £160m cash still being injected into the sport by cigarette companies.

Wright acknowledges that the value of the GSK deal is enhanced by the presence of tobacco brands, since products such as NiQuitin CQ are targeted specifically at consumers who are trying to give up smoking.

The FIA case against the EU will be heard in the European Court of Justice, though no date has been confirmed for the beginning of proceedings.

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