Formula 1’s Move to Alcohol Free Racing

Alcohol seems to be everywhere in Formula One (F1); a 2018 study by BMC Public Health found that alcohol content occurred in all races shown, and well as 41% of all advertisement breaks in the programme. From advertising on the drivers’ cars, suits and helmets, to the iconic tradition of spraying champagne or sparkling wine from the winner’s podium, it is hard to avoid the association of alcohol with success in F1. The sport’s love for alcohol has an influence on it’s fans; after Daniel Riccardo drank champagne out of a shoe to celebrate his podium placement in 2016, the Australian party piece of doing a ‘shoey’ was introduced to F1 and many fans took part in the trend (typically done using beer).

However, if you’ve watched any Formula One over the last few years, you may have noticed something different in the advertising presented around the sport – around the track, on team gear and cars, in the stands, and even the podium. While it has long been common for Grand Prix countries that have banned alcohol to replace the traditional champagne or sparkling wine with rose water for the iconic podium presentation, it seems that the non-alcohol influence is spreading through the sport as a whole. Is Formula One’s relationship with alcohol changing? How? And perhaps more importantly, what is driving the change?

The Shift to Non Alcoholic Brands

Formula 1 has notably been partnering with non-alcoholic brands and products recently. Their global partner since 2016 has been Heineken, which, although a renowned lager beer company, is becoming just as known for its 0.0% offering as it is for its traditional alcoholic beverages. Though Heineken is free to promote alcoholic beverages, it increasingly common to see its 0.0% lager advertised when any particular product is shown. General racetrack advertising often also consists of other alcoholic drinks brands, many of which are increasingly opting to promote their alcohol-free 0.0% or 0.5% offerings. Brands without such alternatives have increasingly disappeared over recent years, including Smirnoff and Johnnie Walker, who were once huge team sponsors.

In addition, the teams themselves have also seen an increase in non-alcoholic beverage sponsorship. In 2019, Mercedes announced a global partnership with Seedlip, the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirit. In 2021, Aston Martin established a multi-year partnership with Peroni, promoting their Peroni Libera 0.0%. As well as promoting the brands using advertisement, the teams will also be served the non-alcoholic drinks at F1 events, leveraging the influence that seeing the crew drinking these beverages will have on fans.

This change has also been seen in partnerships between brands individual drivers. Driver Carlos Sainz was sponsored by Estrella Galicia 0.0 from 2013 to 2021 when he was part of McLaren. Drivers have also spoken out about lowering their own alcohol consumption. Seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton has shared his choice to reduce his alcohol intake as part of leading a healthier lifestyle; Lando Norris has also expressed his preference of avoiding alcohol.

This leads us to wonder; what is driving this shift towards non-alcoholic advertising and lifestyle within the F1 world?

Asian Cultural Influence

One of the reasons that F1 may be reducing its alcohol advertising and increasing its 0.0% alcohol-free adverts are due to Asia’s growing influence over the sport. Many countries in Western Asia have a strict 0.0% rule regarding alcohol, unlike the 0.5% that many other countries would consider to be an alcohol-free drink. This 0.0% tolerance regarding alcohol percentage is largely for religious reasons and is common in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, and Azerbaijan. Despite only 6 out of 22 races in the 2022 season taking place in Asia, Asian countries such as the aforementioned are known for their huge financial investment in Formula 1. This is seen through large sponsorships in F1 itself, for example Etihad Airways’ sponsorship of the Grand Prix, as well as team sponsorships such as Saudi company Aramco’s partnerships with Aston Martin. As a result, the World Motor Sport Council (FIA), which governs Formula 1, are likely to want to appease these countries in order to ensure their continued financial support. 

This is in an industry where costs could average 400 million US dollars per team each season, prior to the 2021 decision to cap the team spending limit at $145m. Although the cap has been introduced and is set to decrease by $5m in 2022 and again in 2023 for environmental reasons, these are still incredibly large amounts, and Formula 1 benefits greatly from the money flowing from countries such as Saudi Arabia. Keeping these countries happy means keeping their money, and one way to do this is by mirroring their views on alcohol and alcohol-free products.

French Marketing Laws

In addition to the Asian cultural influence on views of alcohol, a lesser-known influence comes from France. French laws place strict limitations on the advertising of alcohol in the country. A French law known as ‘The Loi Evin’ passed in 1991 banned advertising for drinks with an alcohol content of more than 1.2% in the country; in addition, it banned all alcohol sponsorships of cultural or sporting events. Therefore, Formula One is not allowed to advertise any alcohol on French TV, and teams who are sponsored by alcohol brands must cover up any car, suit, or helmet advertisements that are typically displayed. For example, Carlos Sainz has to cover up any advertisements from his sponsor, Estrella Galicia. Despite Estrella Galicia 0.0% itself being completely alcohol-free, France still prohibits its promotion, as brewery Hijos de Rivera produces other Estrella beers containing alcohol. Equally, the same is required of Aston Martin sponsor Peroni, who will often replace Peroni Libera 0.0% advertising with a brandless blue ribbon (which has long been associated with Peroni) and the year of the brand’s inception for French races. Additionally, Heineken advertising is absent from all French Formula 1 weekends.

The Dangers of Drink Driving

There has been speculation that alcohol advertising in Formula 1 is becoming viewed increasingly negatively in the same way that tobacco promotions and sponsorship were in the years running up to the FIA banning them in 2001.

The irony between the dangers of drink-driving and the promotion of alcohol during a motorsport event where cars drive at an average of 161mph is also worth noting. This link is not lost on Heineken, who in 2016 (in partnership with Formula 1) unveiled a campaign titled ‘When You Drive, Never Drink’, with Formula 1 legends Nico Rosberg and Sir Jackie Stewart as its ambassadors. The campaign aims to change attitudes and ‘make moderate drinking cool’.

More recently, the campaign released a 2020 video promotion featuring father and son duo, and Formula 1 champions, Keke and Nico Rosberg. The campaign showed that, no matter how confident a driver you may be, the best driver is always sober behind the wheel. Heineken has pledged 10% of their media spend each year to promoting responsible drinking.

Heineken and Formula 1 are taking their responsibility as global brands seriously by highlighting the dangers of drinking while driving and spearheading the cultural shift towards moderate and non-alcohol drinking generally.

Cultural Shift

The cultural shift towards drinking less alcohol can be seen globally. An increasing number of adults in countries where alcohol is legal are confessing to being tee-total (20.4% of the UK population stated they were alcohol-free in 2017), it is important that F1 recognise their responsibility as a sport and an institution to promote safer driving practices; as well as understanding and reflecting changing global attitudes.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the gradual yet increasing changes that Formula 1 is making to emphasise promoting non-alcoholic products and brands are crucial. Such change reflects the changing global landscape – the growing international Asian influence, the overall change in attitude from many younger adults, and the lengths that brands and countries are going to dissuade people from drinking and driving. With 7 of the 21 race countries banning alcohol or alcohol-adjacent promotion, it is a smart move by Formula 1 to move towards non-alcoholic promotion overall, acting as leaders rather than followers in this regard.

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