Japan Tobacco have confirmed this week that they are going to pull out of their title sponsorship with the Renault F1 Team at the end of this year, in order to comply with the International Tobacco Products Marketing Standards agreement, of which Japan Tobacco were a joint author. Mild Seven are not the only cigarette brand that will not be seen in the sport come 2007, with West (Who pulled out in 2005), Benson & Hedges and British American Tobacco (Former owners of BAR) all leaving the scene. The Philip Morris brand, which sponsors Ferrari, are thought to continue their association with the sport beyond next year, with rumours spreading saying that they want a full-car sponsorship deal, meaning Marlboro will be the only sponsor. The multi-year deal is thought to be in the region of $1bn.
2006 will mark Mild Seven's 12th year as a title sponsor, after signing a deal with Benetton in 1994. Since 1992 Japan Tobacco had supported Ukyo Katayama and continued to do so until 1997. Then in 2002 Benetton became Renault, with Mild Seven remaining as a title sponsor. This 12 year association has been one of the longest seen in F1 history.
“The departure of cigarettes in 2007 is not easy to replace,” said Renault team president Patrick Faure at the launch of the R26 in Monaco. “They were really paying a good part of the budget. I don't see easily one sponsor replacing them. But I think we can find two or three smaller sponsors who can share the space.”
“It has always been our greatest pleasure to work with such a committed partner as the Renault F1 Team. Thanks to the team's remarkable achievements, with their expertise and cutting-edge technologies, the Mild Seven brand name and its Blue Wind logo are now among the most recognizable brands in the world,” said Seigo Nishizawa, Japan Tobacco Executive Deputy President and President of the Tobacco Business. “I wish the team the greatest successes with us in 2006 and also for many years to come.”
The news doesn't come as a surprise, but it does add fuel to the fire that Renault will quit the sport after 2007, or even before then. Losing Alonso to McLaren was the first sign, with the loss of a title sponsor yet another clear indication. We'll just have to wait and see.