Diageo defends Formula One association amid Eurocare concern

Drinks giant Diageo has defended its sponsorship of the Formula One motor racing championship in response to criticism from the European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare).

The pressure group last month penned an open letter to Jean Todt, president of motorsport’s global governing body the FIA, claiming that Diageo, and other drinks brands, association with Formula One was at odds with official guidelines on the marketing of alcohol.

Formula One has experienced a bumper year in alcohol sponsorship with many teams having agreed new deals. Diageo-owned vodka brand Smirnoff struck a partnership with Force India, while Johnnie Walker built on its partnership with McLaren by agreeing to become the official whisky of F1. British team Williams also signed a major deal with Italian spirits brand Martini.

Eurocare said that these associations run “against the EU Directive which states that marketing for the consumption of alcohol should not be linked to driving.”

However, Diageo’s head of premium core spirits, David Gates, rejected these concerns and pointed to his company’s campaigns cautioning against drink driving, which he estimated the Formula One sponsorship has helped to reach half a billion people.

Gates told the Press Association Sport news agency: “We’ve been involved in Formula One for over a decade, and in that time responsible drinking has been at the heart of our campaign. Through our campaigns we reckon we’ve reached over half a billion people with the ‘never drink and drive’ message.

“We’ve had one and a half million people sign a pledge to never drink and drive, and we’ve an ambition to take that on to five million. From our perspective, we’re seeing our association with the sport as an extraordinary opportunity to help influence both attitudes and behaviour to have less people – ideally no people – drink and drive.”

Last week, former Formula One world champion and Johnnie Walker ambassador Mika Hakkinen joined McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen in Edinburgh at an event promoting Diageo’s Never Drink and Drive Christmas campaign.