Trouble for Renault F1 Team during Montreal’s Formula One

The revival of the legendary John Player Special-Lotus colours may be great for nostalgic Formula One fans, but the historic black Renault F1 Teamand gold paint scheme may cause some headaches for its team during Canadian Grand Prix in June.

While it’s a neat tribute to the Lotus teams of the 1970s and 1980s, having the Renault F1 team’s car look even remotely similar to a cigarette pack likely violates Canada’s ban on tobacco advertising, even if it has no connection to the former sponsorship or the John Player Special (JPS) brand owner. Renault F1 announced late last year that it would resurrect the JPS colours after signing a sponsorship deal with Group Lotus.

None of Lotus’ rich history will matter to Health Canada, which enforces the Tobacco Act, should the car appear on track in Montreal in June. Its spokesperson would not discuss the specific case of the JPS colour-scheme, but said Health Canada “tobacco inspectors would need to fully review to assess whether a violation of the Tobacco Act has occurred” should a car painted to resemble a cigarette pack make an appearance on Montreal’s 13-turn, 4.361-kilometre Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

“The Tobacco Act prohibits the promotion of tobacco products or tobacco product-related brand elements in Canada, except as authorized by the Act or regulations. Tobacco product sponsorship is prohibited entirely and tobacco advertising is severely restricted,” the spokesperson added.

According to the Act, promotion is “a representation about a product or service by any means, whether directly or indirectly, including any communication of information about a product or service and its price and distribution, that is likely to influence and shape attitudes, beliefs and behaviours about the product or service.”

It appears that it could easily be argued that the Renault’s plans to display the same black colour and gold pin-striping that formerly promoted the JPS brand and associate it with the glitz and glamour of F1 would contravene the legislation.

The JPS livery dates back to the 1972 F1 season when the black and gold paint scheme became synonymous with Team Lotus during a partnership ran to the end of 1986, although the team’s sponsor changed briefly from 1979 to 1981. JPS-Lotus cars took two world championships, with Mario Andretti driving to the team’s sixth F1 drivers’ title in 1978, six years after Emerson Fittipaldi won the outfit’s fifth. The team also won three of its seven constructor’s crowns under the JPS banner.

Three-time world champion Ayrton Senna took the JPS-Lotus’ final victory at the 1986 U.S. Grand Prix in Detroit. Senna also brought the Lotus into the winner’s circle for its 79th and last F1 victory in Detroit a year later, while driving a Camel cigarette-sponsored car.

After showing off the livery at the Autosport International Show in the U.K. last week, Lotus-Renault will officially launch its 2011 challenger in Valencia, Spain, on Jan. 31, just before a pre-season test gets under way. There are no indications that the team has made any moves to have an alternate paint scheme available to run in Canada. Under F1 rules, a team’s two cars must display the same livery for the entire season and the Lotus-Renault outfit would need to seek special approval from the sport to make major changes to its colour scheme.

Meanwhile, Imperial Tobacco Canada, which manufactures and distributes the John Player Special brand in this country, cannot even display the black and gold colours on its website where it describes the brand.

“It is categorically against the law to present any likeness to a cigarette pack,” said an Imperial Tobacco spokesperson, who stressed the company isn’t worried about repercussions due to the JPS livery’s appearance in Montreal because it is not involved in the team in any way.

“If I were Lotus though, I would be concerned — I wonder if they are aware of the law in Canada.”

Imperial Tobacco knows all about restrictions surrounding sponsorship of racing. The company was intimately involved in developing top Canadian racing talent until it was drummed out of the sport by the Tobacco Act’s ban on sponsorships. Beginning in the early 1960s, its Player’s brand helped support racers such as two-time Formula Atlantic champion Bill Brack, former IndyCar and NASCAR driver Patrick Carpentier, the late Greg Moore, IndyCar driver Alex Tagliani, 2003 Champ Car titlist Paul Tracy, and F1 legend Gilles Villeneuve and his son, 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve.

Player’s and the Forsythe Team teamed up in Championship Auto Racing Teams (commonly known as CART which later became Champ Car) the mid-1990s, but the partnership ended in October 2003, when the Tobacco Act’s ban on cigarette sponsorships came into effect following a seven-year exemption.

The legislation almost caused the cancellation of the 2004 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal due to the heavy involvement of the cigarette industry in F1 at the time. The race was reinstated after a deal saw the race organizers pay $29-million to the then-five tobacco sponsored teams for the loss of revenue due to the ban on cigarette sponsorship and advertising in Montreal.

A month after the 2004 Canadian Grand Prix went ahead, Forsythe ran afoul of tobacco inspectors in Toronto during Indy race weekend on the streets of Exhibition Place. The outfit showed up with cars featuring the blue and white chevron brand elements from the cigarette pack that reflected the previous Player’s Racing incarnation.

The team escaped with a warning in 2004 after pleading its case to Health Canada officials. It also changed the paint scheme for the race a year later in Toronto and, while it continued to use blue and white livery, Forsythe moved further away from the Player’s colours in the following seasons.


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