Crypto is the new tobacco: How Formula 1 got a rising industry supporting the sport

When you think of F1, you’ll agree that it’s a sport where some of the world’s most famous brands come together in a year-long spectacle packed with action, drama and emotion. All around the tracks, broadcast, digital media – you see big names such as Heineken, Rolex, Emirates, Puma, Tommy Hilfiger, among many others.

It’s no secret that Formula 1 brings a colossal marketing platform for companies to grow brand awareness and recognition, not only to consumers but for potential business partners. The pinnacle of motorsport comes close to the likes of football and basketball in being attractive for brands.

It can’t be denied that this is a direct influence of the late John Hogan, who arrived to the sport in the ’70s as Marlboro’s marketing director, propelling a “rich man’s event” into the big mainstream. The biggest tobacco brand in the world became part of racing, which in part brought the rest of the tobacco industry investing heavily to win against the Red Chevron.

James Hunt drives his McLaren M23 Ford V8 through the streets of the Principality of Monte Carlo during the 1976 Monaco Grand Prix

While Marlboro had the big guns in McLaren, Team Penske and later Ferrari, the competition supported the smaller, familiar teams such as Williams, Lotus and Ligier. When you talked about championship fights, race battles, you had to mention the brands: a win for Lotus equalled a win for Camel, people would immediately associate the cigarettes as a winner’s product.

Of course, doubts started to be raised over time as the public and organisations learned about the dangers of smoking cigarettes, which is one of the main causes of deaths each year according to the World Health Organization. Governments were starting to impose tobacco advertising bans in the late ’80s, with a EU-wide ban set in place in 2007.

Managing a Formula 1 team is hardly ever profitable, making teams rely heavily on sponsorship money and prize money to pay creditors, employees and compete on-track. Tobacco companies were willing to invest an enormous sum of money in motorsport which any other industry wouldn’t be comfortable to finance.

the Brazilian Ayrton Senna at the wheel of his Lotus 98T takes the iconic Rascasse corner during the 1986 Monaco Grand Prix.

Even after the 2008 Economic Crisis, many teams fell victims of the lack of interest companies had in F1: Marussia, HRT, Caterham, Sauber, Williams – three of these teams filed for bankruptcy and folded in 5 years of racing. Energy drink companies were starting to rise in the market, but their marketing strategies were much more stricter and calculated than the spontaneous tobacco.

However, a new industry was growing in the background during the 2010s. The conceptualisation of decentralised digital currencies and the evolving blockchain technology was impacting the internet until its “big bang” in 2020. Crypto companies were generating revenues of millions upon millions of euros through transactions of their own currencies and campaigns.

In just a matter of 2 years, you can already see 3 brands fighting for best presence and awareness across the most viewed sports: football, boxing, motorcycle racing. and joined F1 at roughly the same time, with one clear leader in place.

the British single-seater Aston Martin AMR21 in the garage during the weekend of the 2021 Italian Grand Prix started the year by signing with the new Aston Martin F1 team, which along the races increased its logos on the team’s image – then it signed a multi-year Global Partner deal with Formula 1 itself, putting the brand visible not only on-track, but also on F1TV’s Tech Talk show and F1’s new Sprint Series. The omnipresence of these cryptocurrency brands brings a clear message: this rising investment prospect is becoming part of the sport’s experience. “The future is now”, some say of the blockchain-powered technology that has quickly impacted the global economy.

This booming industry is here to stay, as teams find themselves a new lifeline in sponsorship money with a budget cap already active in the championship. Hearing about sponsor trouble in the next years will be nearly impossible with this industry in town. But we will also have to wait to see if the crypto advertising will be blocked like the old tobacco in the future…

F1-Autore: Lyla Oakes – @decalspotters

foto: F1 – Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team

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