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Diageo defends Formula 1 sponsorship

Drinks giant Diageo has hit back at critics of its Formula 1 sponsorship, insisting that it presents an “extraordinary opportunity” to promote a safe drinking message.

Former Formula 1 driver and Johnnie Walker global responsible drinking ambassador, Mika Häkkinen, Formula 1 drivers Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen at the launch of the Johnnie Walker responsible drinking campaign in December (Photo: Diageo)
Former Formula 1 driver and Johnnie Walker global responsible drinking ambassador, Mika Häkkinen, Formula 1 drivers Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen at the launch of the Johnnie Walker responsible drinking campaign in December (Photo: Diageo)

The retort by Diageo, owner of leading whisky brand and Formula 1 sponsor Johnnie Walker, comes after a letter by the European Alcohol Policy Alliance wrote to the president of the sport’s regulator the FIA.

The pressure group, also known as Eurocare, urged FIA president Jean Todt to “take moral leadership” and help to end links between motorsport at alcohol, according to Planet-F1. 

Eurocare claimed that the current arrangement “seems to contradict many official guidelines for the marketing of alcohol”, saying, “It runs against the EU Directive which states that marketing for the consumption of alcohol should not be linked to driving.”

But David Gates, Diageo’s head of premium core spirits, has said that through sponsoring F1 his company has reached “half a billion” people to promote the “don’t drink and drive” message.

“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,” Gates told Press Association Sport.

“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,” he said.

Separately, the drinks business recently reported that former Diageo chief executive Paul Walsh has been linked to the top job at Formula 1, with rumours spreading that he has been approached about becoming the sport’s chairman.

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