The Best and Strangest Formula 1 Sponsors Through the Ages

From an outsider’s perspective, the concept of paying to play a sport seems absurd. Skill and grit should be the factors that determine who plays at a professional level. Yet the world of racing, and especially Formula 1, has a history of racers who are rich and famous as opposed to the naturally gifted and determined.

This is understandable, the Formula 1 cars and the tracks they race on are understandably not cheap and the money had to come from somewhere. So guys like Prince Bira of Siam or Count Carel de Beaufort (not a supervillain) raced against legitimate, funded drivers.

However, in 1968 the method in which Formula 1 was funded change dramatically. Formula 1 sponsors bans were lifted, and the sport would be inevitably changed forever. The first to the table? Tobacco companies facing the impending doom of scientific research.

Gold Leaf

Later known as John Player & Sons, tobacco giant Gold Leaf’s golden boy was Colin Chapman. The company believed F1 was a reflection of their own brand: upper market, niche, and an insight into the finer things in life. Soon deep British racing greens were swapped for the bright racing red of Gold Leaf.

John Player Special

Same company, different names. And most importantly, different colours. The black and gold cars that sported John Player stood out as the most refined and elegant. The scheme was dropped in 1987 but will always represent Formula 1’s golden years.

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A condom company sponsoring anything other than adult-themed enterprises seems absurd even in days like these. Durex came to represent the growing hedonistic and rockstar-like lifestyles of Formula 1 and its drivers. Beginning in 1976, the Surtees team were merely hopping on a bandwagon of other Formula 1 sponsors that included Playboy Magazine and pop groups like ABBA.


Not a fashion icon but a Brazillian bank. The intertwining of the blue hat and yellow helmet was synonymous with three-time world champion Ayrton Senna which broke the tradition wherein driver sponsors received little visibility.

Bitten & Hisses

Sometimes, advertising requires a special stroke of genius. Bitten & Hisses (obviously, cigarette brand Benson & Hedges) were swift in avoiding growing constrictions within Formula 1 sponsors that stated that tobacco companies and the like should not be shown. The result was the Jordan team’s excellent yellow snake designs that were put to a stop in 2005 following tighter bans from the EU.

The Windmill Inn

The most curious and innocent inclusion on this list, the small motel based in West Sussex managed to squeeze its name on to Team Caterham’s car during the 2014 season.


Jay is a writer and content producer for The Versatile Gent.

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