Ferrari erased the bar code from their racing cars last night under pressure from British medical experts who accused the team of using the symbol as a “smokescreen for cigarette advertising”.
The most successful team in Formula One acted quickly and dramatically to revelations in The Times a week ago that pressure was growing for a government inquiry into whether Ferrari’s famous livery broke laws on tobacco advertising, while their relationship, said to be worth $1 billion (about £670 million), with Philip Morris, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, was held up to intense scrutiny.
Ferrari reacted angrily to the report with Luca di Montezemolo, the team’s president, describing the accusations as ridiculous. But the twin Ferrari cars that will be wheeled out today for practice for the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona will not be adorned with the usual black-and-white bar code symbol. Instead, there will be an empty red space with a white border.
The team motorhome, their trucks and uniforms are still emblazoned with the bar code, but it seems to be only a matter of time before they go, too, as Ferrari buckles under criticism from leading figures in the British medical profession who are concerned that the team were engaged in subliminal advertising.
A Ferrari statement said last night: “Together with Philip Morris International we have decided to modify the livery of the cars, starting with the Spanish Grand Prix. The decision was taken in order to remove all speculation concerning the so-called bar code, which was never intended to be a reference to a tobacco brand.”
The rapid decision to ditch the bar code caught the paddock by surprise. Philip Morris has been one of the biggest-spending sponsors in the sport for decades and the multinational company’s deal with Ferrari has been one of the most high-profile and successful. But questions have been asked constantly about how Ferrari could continue to work with Philip Morris more than four years after the rest of the Formula One teams had voluntarily ended tobacco sponsorships. Ferrari have always maintained that their deal with Philip Morris allows for private sponsorship functions and dismissed suggestions that the vivid red colour of the cars — similar to a pack of Marlboro cigarettes — and the black-and-white bar code were a form of discreet advertising.
But Di Montezemolo and his senior managers at the team’s Maranello headquarters in Italy have clearly been rattled by the disclosures in The Times and must be wondering whether they should plough on with their long-time relationship with one of the world’s biggest tobacco manufacturers. It is thought there are still two years remaining on the decade-long deal and the pressure will be on the glamorous Scuderia to fall into line with the rest of Formula One and end its dependence on tobacco money.
Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton has decisions of his own to make as he contemplates who will replace Anthony, his father, as his manager. The McLaren driver said that he had been inundated with “a million calls” as soon as he announced that he had split with his father. But the 25-year-old has ambitions beyond the narrow confines of the sport and it seems increasingly likely that he will sign with one of the leading agencies, such as IMG, which turned Tiger Woods from golfer to global superstar.
Like Woods — and Ferrari — Hamilton wants to be a worldwide brand. The beauty parade to find the management that can help to turn Hamilton from driver to global household name could be a long one, though. “I am not in any rush,” he said. “I am thinking of getting someone while I am in Formula One but who can progress what I am.”