What do condoms, diamonds, coffins, men’s magazines and computer games have in common? Right, you are among the ten craziest sponsors of Formula 1. Smile with us.
In principle, it is welcome when a company is actively involved in motorsport. But the following ten products or advertising campaigns raised a few eyebrows in the pit lanes. As is well known, the word impossible does not exist in the Grand Prix circus, the motto is rather – expect the unexpected! That goes for a number of strange sponsors we’ve seen over the years as well. Here are ten bizarre financiers of the premier class, a list from A for ABBA to X for Xena, without claiming to be exhaustive.
ABBA (ATS 1981)
Slim (actually Karl Edward Tommy) Borgudd earned his living as a studio musician for the pop band ABBA. The four famous Swedes are said to have opened the door to Formula 1 for him in 1981. After all, ABBA was clearly emblazoned on the side pods of the ATS racing car (I can’t get the mirrored, second B on my keyboard, I ask ABBA fans for your indulgence). But the ATS team boss Günter Schmid, who died in 2005, once told me in an interview that money never flowed at all, rather ABBA should be on the racing car to attract sponsors. To the best of my knowledge, it didn’t work out that well.
Borgudd worked his way into Formula 3 via the Swedish touring car scene and became national champion in 1979. The Formula 1 debut in 1981 with Felgenkönig Günter Schmid came as a bit of a surprise. With 6th place in England, Borgudd at least got one point. For 1982 the Swede moved to Tyrrell, but after ranks 16, 7 and 10 in South Africa, Brazil and Long Beach the money ran out and the Englishman Brian Henton took over. Like Borgudd, ABBA was no longer seen in Formula 1.
Durex (Surtees 1976)
As usual, this race was a welcome indicator for the following season: The “Race of Champions”, which is not part of the Formula 1 World Cup, attracted an impressive 16 entries in 1976, and all top teams were represented. The venerable BBC had promised to broadcast the Grand Prix trial gallop live, but a few hours before the race the TV crew packed their cameras. What happened?
The reason was five letters on the virgin white racers from John Surtees: Durex – the most famous condom in the country! The BBC officials were not willing to send pictures in the parlor, on which the little rubber is advertised. In the end, children could have asked what Durex means. How utterly shocking …
Durex Marketing Director Bob Hall couldn’t understand the hype: “What’s immoral about bothering about family planning? What does the BBC have to object to that? ” Questions Hall received no answers. Inwardly, Hall will not have stopped laughing – the fuss about the contraceptive was the best advertisement.
Alan Jones promptly led during the first half of the race, at the end he only had to bow to eventual world champion James Hunt. Team boss John Surtees didn’t care about the prudish BBC, Durex stayed on the racing car.
Earth Car (Honda 2007)
In 2007 Honda showed one of the strangest liveries in Grand Prix history and named the result “Earth Car”. Pictured on the car was a satellite photo of the earth. Honda wanted to draw attention to environmental and climate protection. They were way ahead of the times. The wild design also distracted from the fact that Honda had little money. The Earth Car was a laughing stock among the fans and practically unusable on the racetracks – Jenson Button was only able to get eight points in the whole season, Rubens Barrichello even got nothing!
La Varesina Sofam (Merzario 1979)
Little Arturo Merzario was always short of money, so he couldn’t be picky about funders. But when he was walking a white cross in a circle on a black background at the lower end of the rear wing plate in 1979, Formula 1 promoter Bernie Ecclestone wanted to know which product it was, please. The Englishman was amazed when Merzario revealed that “La Varesina SOFAM – Onoranze Funebri” was a funeral home. Even Ecclestone found it a little macabre, and so the writing disappeared discreetly. Incidentally, the company still exists today.
Penthouse (Hesketh 1976 and 1977)
For Lord Alexander Hesketh, Formula 1 was initially a single party, but the Englishman soon realized that GP sport devours insane sums of money. Sponsors had to be found. In 1976, Hesketh appeared with an advertisement for the men’s magazine Penthouse, in combination with the Rizla + cigarette paper. It is hard to imagine the storm of indignation that would arise today if a racing stable would have a cigarette girl as an advertisement on the car.
Samson (Shadow 1979)
The Dutchman Jan Lammers was the reason for one of the most breathtaking liveries in Formula 1. Tobacco manufacturer Samson placed an oversized lion head on the 1979 Shadow racing car from Lammers. Jan had already given driver training as a teenager and one of his clients was the then head of the Dutch tobacco company Niemeyer (now part of British American Tobacco, BAT). When Lammers got into Formula 1, the boss kept his word and got involved as a sponsor.
SEGA (Williams 1993)
SEGA (stands for “Service Games”) is a Japanese manufacturer of video games and slot machines. In 1993 an agreement was signed with the Williams racing team – and suddenly “Sonic the hedgehog” appeared next to the somewhat perplexed racing drivers Alain Prost and Damon Hill. Sonic was supposed to be sitting in the car, so his little legs were drawn on the side of the racers. The character is still popular today: In 2020, the film “Sonic The Hedgehog” had the bad luck of being released in the middle of the corona pandemic; Part 2 will follow in 2022.
Star Wars (Red Bull Racing 2005)
Basically, it was only a matter of time before the universes of Formula 1 and Star Wars would collide. Because «Mr. Star Wars “George Lucas is a huge racing fan, and the fact that we can enjoy a long pod race in” The Phantom Menace “, for example, which is very reminiscent of a chariot race, is by no means a funny coincidence. For 2005, Red Bull Racing drew attention to the new Star Wars flick “Revenge of the Sith” at the Monaco Grand Prix, and it was certainly a good thing when mechanics dressed like storm troops scurried around the car at the pit stop. Darth Vader held the signal board. The power was not with Red Bull Racing, both cars retired.
Steinmetz (Jaguar 2004)
That fit in with the glamorous Monaco GP: In 2004, the diamond specialists from Steinmetz put an allegedly real diamond on the nose of the Jaguar R5 by Mark Webber and Christian Klien – the whole campaign as part of an advertisement for the movie “Ocean’s Twelve”. The Austrian Klien then put the car in the guardrails on the first lap, in the narrow Loews bend. The allegedly $ 250,000 stone vanished into thin air. It is still not clear: Was the diamond really lost or was it headline-grabbing fake news?
XENA (Tyrrell 1997)
In 1997, Channel 5 went on air in England. To attract viewers, the station showed the US series “Xena: Warrior Princess”. The warrior princess, also known in German-speaking countries, has cult status today and made actress Lucy Lawless a star. At the British Grand Prix, Jos Verstappen and Mika Salo’s Tyrrell came out with Xena advertising, with brunette Xena on one side and blonde Gabrielle on the other. The sword-wielding Amazons brought the pilots no luck: Salo and Verstappen were both eliminated.