British American Tobacco (BAT) is well known for having been a motor racing sponsor. The cigarette firm bought the Tyrrell team at the end of 1997 as the company’s then CEO Martin Broughton was keen to use F1 to promote the sales of Lucky Strike, which it had acquired in 1993 from American Tobacco, and the 555 brand, which BAT was keen to grow in Asia. The purchase of Tyrrell was basically to acquire its entry and a completely new team was put together in Brackley by Craig Pollock and Adrian Reynard. The team raced as Tyrrell in 1998 but was then launched as BAR in 1999, with a bizarre two-sided colour scheme with Lucky Strike on one side of the car and 555 on the other. This was the result of the team ignoring the rulebook and trying to run its cars in two different liveries.
The team continued under BAT ownership until the end of 2005 when it was sold to Honda, BAT by then having come under new leadership. The team would later transform into Brawn GP and more recently in to Mercedes AMG Petronas.
But this was not the first time that BAT had been in F1. In the 1980s it had funded several teams, trying to promote the European sales of its low-tar Barclay brand, which was manufactured by its US subsidiary Brown & Williamson. The sponsorship was largely related to Belgian driver Thierry Boutsen and sponsored him at Arrows in 1984, 1985 and 1986. Boutsen then moved to Benetton and the sponsorship went to Williams, but the two were back together in 1989 and 1990 when Thierry joined Williams. The sponsorship moved on to Jordan in 1992 and 1993 and Boutsen turned up there too.
But even this was not BAT’s first foray into Formula 1 because back in the early 1970s, the company was a big F1 sponsor – but not with a tobacco brand.
Sponsorship was just beginning in Formula 1 at the time and Imperial Tobacco, which owned some of BAT’s shares, had started the ball rolling in 1968 by supporting Team Lotus with its Gold Leaf brand. This would be switched to the black and gold of John Player Special in 1972. BAT was in the process of diversifying into non-tobacco businesses at the time, as a result of the new chairman Denzil Clarke believing that this was a good strategy. In 1967 BAT had acquired the venerable cosmetic, fragrance and toiletry company Yardley of Bond Street. It was the Swinging Sixties and under BAT ownership Yardley associated itself with the rising fashion stars of the era – notably Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy – and embraced the cultural revolution that was taking place.
Yardley was cool and, after Clarke handed over BAT to a new chairman, Richard Dobson, in 1970, he decided that motor racing was also cool and agreed a deal for Yardley to sponsor BRM, for the princely sum of £50,000. The drivers were Pedro Rodriguez, Jackie Oliver and George Eaton. The following year Rodriguez was joined by Jo Siffert and Howden Ganley in white BRMs, featuring black, brown and gold Yardley logos. It was a difficult time in F1 history and the Yardley BRM team suffered. Rodriguez was killed in a sports car race at the Norisring in July, but the team won in Austria (thanks to Siffert) and at Monza (thanks to Peter Gethin) and by the end of the year was running four cars with Gethin and Helmut Marko (now of Red Bull fame) alongside Siffert and Ganley. The season would end in tragedy, however, when Siffert crashed and died in a fire at the season-ending Victory Race at Brands Hatch. BRM boss Louis Stanley heard that Philip Morris wanted to promote Marlboro in F1 and so after attending Siffert’s funeral in Fribourg, he drove to Marlboro headquarters in Lausanne to present a sponsorship proposal to Scotsman Ronnie Thomson, the President of Philip Morris Europe. A two-year £100,000 contract was signed a month later.
Yardley seems to have been happy to see the back of BRM and agreed a new deal with McLaren, supporting Denny Hulme and Peter Revson (and his replacement in several events Brian Redman). The team expanded to a third car for Jody Scheckter for the US Grand Prix. Hulme won the South African GP and the non-championship Gold Cup at Oulton Park, but otherwise the team was winless. The sponsorship continued in 1973 with Hulme, Revson and Scheckter on occasion. Revson won twice, in Britain and Canada, while Hulme took victory in Sweden.
By the end of the season, however, McLaren was keen to sign with Marlboro, which had had enough of BRM by then. McLaren and Brabham were battling for the sponsorship, which would include Texaco sponsorship and Emerson Fittipaldi. Yardley threatened McLaren with legal action but the enterprising Teddy Mayer managed to find a solution with the team being split with two Marlboro cars for Fittipaldi and Hulme and a third car, run by McLaren’s joint managing director, Phil Kerr, for Mike Hailwood, in Yardley colours. Fittipaldi would win the title in 1974 while Hailwood’s season ended with a broken leg. He was replaced for two races by David Hobbs and then by Jochen Mass.
At the end of the year Yardley pulled out of F1.