Now, that is quite a story when you stop to think about… The original plan for Johnnie Walker, you may recall, was to stop sponsoring McLaren and to put all the sponsorship money into one team (Force India) and then turn it into glamorous Aston Martin F1. Thus, if the Johnnie Walker money is going back to McLaren, with another long-term deal, this means that there is not about to be any more money going into that strategy. Thus, the idea of a Diageo-funded Aston Martin F1 team is probably dead.
Smirnoff will continue with Force India, as part of the recent settlement deal between Diageo (owner of Smirnoff) and Vijay Mallya (owner of Force India), but this deal may come under legal scrutiny in India. Separately, Diageo is still keen to recoup a $135 million payment that it had to release to Standard Chartered Bank after agreeing (foolishly, it seems) to guarantee a loan that was made to a company called Watson Ltd, registered in Mauritius. Watson is one of Mallya’s key holding companies and is a shareholder in both the Force India F1 team (by way of a Luxembourg subsidiary) and in the troubled United Breweries Holding (UBH), which oversees what is left of Mallya’s business empire in India. Whether Diageo will ever get this money, or the shares that were pledged to secure the loan guarantee, remains to be seen. If there is a new sponsorship deal with McLaren, this seems to suggest that Diageo has gone off the idea of getting control of the team, stabilising it and then selling it, while using it, in the interim, to promote sales of spirits.