McLaren Announce Johnnie Walker Deal

The McLaren Formula One team are to end decades of tobacco sponsorship with a deal putting the Johnnie Walker whisky brand on their cars from August.

McLaren Announce Johnnie Walker Deal

The McLaren Formula One team are to end decades of tobacco sponsorship with a deal putting the Johnnie Walker whisky brand on their cars from August.

The former World Champions and British-based Diageo Plc, the world's biggest spirits group, announced the agreement, which will cost Diageo up to 15 million pounds ($28.6 million) a year, in a statement on Tuesday.

The long-term deal will begin after the 13th round of the 19-race Championship in Hungary on July 31 when Mercedes-powered McLaren will shed their long-standing West cigarette title sponsorship.

New European Union legislation against tobacco advertising comes into force at the end of July. The first race with the new sponsors will be at the inaugural Turkish Grand Prix on August 21.

McLaren, eight times winners of the Constructors' Championship, have been funded by tobacco money since 1977. German brand West became title sponsors in 1997 after a 20-year association with Marlboro came to an end.

McLaren will start the season in Australia on March 6 with West, owned by Imperial Tobacco since they bought Germany's Reemtsma group in 2002.

The title sponsor's eventual exit will cut the number of 'tobacco teams' to just four - champions Ferrari, Renault, BAT-owned BAR and Jordan - out of a total 10.

The arrival of a whisky company opens up new possibilities for a sport constantly looking for new sources of funding to replace the reliance on tobacco money. It is also likely to be controversial, in the light of campaigns against drinking and driving, and the emphasis will be on promoting responsible behaviour.

While many brewers have sponsored teams, using cars as high-speed billboards, few liquor companies have got involved. Jaegermeister, a German herbal liqueur, backed March in 1974 with Germany's Hans Stuck while Martini sponsored Brabham and other teams in the 1970s.

Diageo have a ground-breaking involvement in the U.S.-based NASCAR series, becoming the first spirits company to enter since sponsorship rules were relaxed for 2005. Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch drives a Ford with Diageo's Crown Royal whiskey brand.

McLaren finished a disappointing fifth in the 2004 Formula One Championship. This year they have Finland's Kimi Raikkonen and Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya driving for them.

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