Hard Liquor to replace tobacco at McLaren

UPDATE #2 McLaren's relationship with long-term partner West continues to be subject to speculation. Autosport has been told McLaren is about to enter a major commercial agreement with drinks manufacturer Diageo, which will bring its Johnny Walker whisky brand into F1. The arrival of Diageo in F1 would be in breach of a gentleman’s agreement, reached between UK drinks companies, not to sponsor the sport. 01/11/05 This rumor is downgraded to 'false.' Whiskey label 'Johnnie Walker' have pulled out despite coming close to a Formula One sponsor deal with McLaren or BAR, we can reveal. We reported in December that the Diageo-owned alcohol brand seriously considered a huge title sponsorship deal to replace McLaren's 'West' (cigarette) branding from mid-'05. But, according to a source, the Walker pull-out might be due to the legal confusion that could have resulted from the association of a motor racing company with hard liquor. 12/12/04 The world’s-biggest selling Scotch whisky brand, Johnnie Walker, is poised to take over from German cigarette brand West as “title sponsor" of the McLaren Mercedes Formula One from next season. According to a company insider, Johnnie Walker parent Diageo has secured a £36 million sponsorship deal with Woking-based McLaren Racing, after months of talks with parties including Bristol-based Imperial Tobacco, the owners of the West brand. Paul Walsh, chief executive of Diageo, an F1 fan, is described by the source as “the clear dealmaker in all of this."

The new arrangement is expected to see McLaren drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya race in Formula One cars emblazoned in Johnnie Walker colors from as early as March 2005. The deal is understood to take effect from no later than July 31 2005 – which is when an Imperial Tobacco spokesman said West’s own sponsorship of McLaren officially ends. However, sources said it is more likely that the deal will start from March 6, when the 2005 Grand Prix season kicks off, with the Australian race in Melbourne. A spokesman for Imperial would not confirm which brand will replace West on McLaren Mercedes’ cars. But said: “We renegotiated the contract to comply with UK and EU legislation." More at Sunday Herald [Editor's Note: Of course Diageo is making a big entry into NASCAR next year on the No. 99 Jack Roush Ford with its Crown Royal brand.]

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