F1 set for controversy as Johnnie Walker and McLaren sign sponsorship deal

LONDON - Formula 1 has signed what is set to be a controversial £15m annual sponsorhip deal as Diageo-owned Scotch whisky brand Johnnie Walker ties up with Team McLaren Mercedes.

F1 has already been forced to begin parting company with tobacco advertising, but there is nothing stopping spirits brands stepping in. It is not the first time alcohol brands have linked up with the sport. Budweiser is currently a non-lead sponsor of the BMW Williams F1 team.

With the high number of 25- to 35-year-old males watching Formula 1, the whisky group sees a unique opportunity to target an audience who are at the core of Johnnie Walker's consumer base in most of the 186 markets in which the brand is present.

Putting a positive spin on the deal, Diageo and McLaren said that the sponsorship will be used to demonstrate that alcohol companies can effectively promote responsible drinking and change consumer attitude to over-consumption and drinking and driving. The branding will appear from the Turkish Grand Prix on August 21, three quarters of the way through the season.

The Striding Man and Johnnie Walker signature will be located on the car's air intake, behind the driver's head as well as on the overalls of the drivers, racing team members' uniforms and Team McLaren Mercedes race transporters.

McLaren will be hoping for a more successful season this year with the new pairing of Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya.

In addition to its annual sponsorship and marketing investment of between £10m and £15m, Johnnie Walker will spend £2m every year directly on responsible drinking programmes in Grand Prix markets.

Charles Allen, marketing manager for Johnnie Walker, said: ""Our branding on the Team McLaren Mercedes 2005 season car, which will appear from the Grand Prix in Turkey, will be executed with discretion."

He added: "Johnnie Walker is recognised in nearly 200 markets. We want to explore more opportunities to engage and motivate the 25- to 35-year-old consumers who are critical to both Johnnie Walker and Formula 1."

The sponsorship will be led by the Johnnie Walker global brand team, which will also look at linking the brand to F1 through advertising, relationship marketing such as email, and on- and off-trade promotions and through specific responsible drinking initiatives tailored to meet the needs of individual Johnnie Walker markets.

Johnny Walker joins a raft of other McLaren sponsors including Hugo Boss, TAG Heuer and Siemens.

Norbert Haug, vice-president at Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, said: "Diageo's plan to use their involvement with Johnnie Walker as a platform for responsible drinking messages will be strongly supported by us as it is an important aspect of our partnership."

The company believes the new sponsorship will help take the whisky brand to a new level of attractiveness to consumers around the world.
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