21 February 2019

When McLarens were not red and white. Fascinating F1 Facts: 84

The red and white livery of the Marlboro McLaren team was one of the iconic colour schemes in F1 history, beginning back in 1974 and continuing for 23 seasons until the end of 1996 when Marlboro's parent company Philip Morris decided to put all of its sponsorship money into Ferrari, even though the team refused to run in the famous Marlboro livery.

And while everyone remembers the liveries, there were four occasions during the relationship when McLarens raced in other colours… Do you remember that time Rosberg drove the yellow and white McLaren? Confused? Well, first of all it wasn't Nico, it was his father Keke and the yellow McLaren was a strange one-off that was tried at the Portuguese GP in 1986. One of the two McLaren MP4/2Cs was painted in the usual red and white livery of Marlboro, which was driven by Alain Prost, while the other was painted in a yellow and white livery because Philip Morris wanted to see what the car looked like if it was tried with a Marlboro Lights livery. The low-tar cigarettes had been launched in the US as early as 1972, but the brand did not go global until 1986. The cigarette packets were gold and white and far less bold than the usual red and white, but the company realized that they had the potential to sell more (as indeed they do today). The problem was that gold and white didn't work on TV and so a yellow-ised version was tried by Rosberg.

And then there were the blue McLarens…

Philip Morris had diversified into beer in 1970, buying the Miller Brewing Company of Milwaukee. Four years after that a deal was struck that gave Miller the North American rights to Löwenbräu, a celebrated Bavarian beer from Munich. Rather than import the German beer, Miller decided to create an American version of the beer which they thought would sell well and then began to market the brand. It was agreed that for the two end-of-season North American F1 races in 1978 the McLarens of James Hunt and Patrick Tambay would run in the blue livery of Löwenbräu. The races took place in early October at Watkins Glen and in Montreal, the two races being just a week apart.  They would mark Hunt's last two races with the team before he moved to join Walter Wolf Racing, so if anyone ever asks you what was James Hunt's last race in a Marlboro McLaren, the answer is Monza 1978.

The livery was reworked over the winter and in April 1979 the McLarens of Hunt's replacement John Watson and Patrick Tambay appeared in a much nicer Löwenbräu colour scheme. But, the idea was axed after that and McLaren went back to its iconic red and white.

Philip Morris sold Miller to South African Breweries in 2002.

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