McLaren are at it again having unveiled another one-off livery for their MCL35M in the 2021 F1 season. This year’s Monaco Grand Prix saw the papaya team showcase their famed Gulf oil livery – to great acclaim. On this occasion, in Abu Dhabi, the Woking-based manufacturer is showcasing their partnership with Vuse whilst also championing new talent and making history in the Middle East. Having been designed by emerging artist Rabab Tantawy, the bespoke McLaren Racing x Vuse livery will be the first time the work of a female, Middle East-based artist has appeared on an F1 car at a grand prix. It is also another chapter in F1’s long history with British American Tobacco and certain to be a divisive issue as F1 teams seek to undo their mistakes from the past.
As for the livery itself, the vibrant colours are engaging and immediately stand out. The reasoning behind the choice of artist is to mark the launch of McLaren Racing and Vuse's #DrivenByChange programme: a joint initiative to provide mentorship and a global platform for emerging artists, lacking in representation, to showcase their talents to motorsport fans worldwide.
At the time of this going to press, Rabab Tantawy’s Instagram account had just over 5000 followers so one can expect that this project sees such a number rapidly on the rise by week’s end. Even more so as John Beasley, Group Head of Brand Building, BAT, said:
“Rabab has been an incredible talent to work with for the launch of the programme, with her passion for diversity and togetherness, and artistic skill set to transform the track in Abu Dhabi. We look forward to working with Rabab further as she helps us continue to influence change in not only motorsport, but the creative industry as a whole.” Rightly so for such a talented artist now launched into the mainstream.
Upon seeing the livery for the first time, in a video published through McLaren’s social media channels, Daniel Ricciardo declared:
“That’s awesome, I really like it because it blends as well. It’s kind of an evolution of what we already run. I really like it, it kind of leads through to the exhaust, that’s cool I really like that. Cool, alright.”
According to the announcement on mclaren.com, the design was inspired by ‘Rabab's passion for unity, community and heritage, the striking livery combines her Nubian Series with the iconic colourway of the McLaren MCL35M.’
So, just who are Vuse?
The answer is that they are a British American Tobacco (New Zealand) Limited company which sells vaping products. Their website explains: Vuse products may be hazardous to health and contain nicotine which is addictive. Vuse electronic cigarettes are not suitable for use by: persons under the age of 18.
For this reason, the partnership is likely to face criticism and provoke debate.
However, globally, it is reported that every 5th adult in the world smokes tobacco. Within that, male tobacco users had risen by around 40 million, from 1.050 billion in 2000 to 1.093 billion in 2018. The impact of COVID-19 will surely have seen this number increase again due to people in lockdown seeking ways to relieve stress, anxiety and boredom.
For their part, Formula One several decades ago can be seen as guilty as anyone for glamourising smoking. From Mario Andretti's John Player-sponsored "Black Beauty" to Michael Schumacher's iconic Marlboro-emblazoned red Ferarri, some of F1's most iconic and successful cars were synonymous with their tobacco branding.
Any search of legendary 1976 F1 Drivers’ Champion James Hunt returns results showing the much-loved McLaren driver in race overalls with a cigarette in hand…whilst also being offered a second.
Smoking is an addiction and people cannot just stop so it takes a shift in the paradigm to lead to change. Not to mention the fact that Marlboro colours first appeared on a McLaren in the 1974 season. The McLaren-Marlboro partnership lasted from 1974 until the end of 1996.
To this day, a packet of Marlboro cigarettes looks like the nose of Ayrton Senna or Alain Prost’s famed livery. Therefore, in my eyes, it is about time that teams sought to help people who were more than likely influenced to take up smoking based on what they saw portrayed in the pinnacle of motorsport in such a (supposedly for the time) cool manner.
Of course, there are still many things unknown about the long-term impact of vaping with new reports every month but the consequences from smoking cigarettes are clear for all to see.
Consequently, vaping companies such as Vuse, will of course profit from the exposure this McLaren partnership will bring but otherwise what need is there for big tobacco to change their way of doing business?
Something has to be done to undo the mistakes from the past and at a time when COVID-19 is prevalent, the damage done by smoking cannot be ignored.
About 100,000 people in the UK die each year due to smoking. Out of this, smoking-related deaths are mainly due to cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease and stroke. Meanwhile in the US, cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year, including more than 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure.
Vuse and McLaren’s partnership this weekend in Abu Dhabi is certain to generate long overdue discussion. Some will say it still glamourises smoking and appeals to a young audience and others will say that it endeavours to help people quit smoking. In my eyes, some action is better than no action.
Formula One (and MotoGP) remain the only major global sports series to still allow tobacco brands to align with certain teams and events to target fans. The one-off McLaren livery to be used in Abu Dhabi was described by Daniel Ricciardo as ‘cool’ and it certainly looks stunning. What we can all agree on is that smoking is not cool. If only that had been the message 45 years ago.