Diageo boss defends alcohol sponsorship in F1

Diageo boss David Gates has defended his company's sponsorship of Formula 1 amidst calls from Eurocare to ban alcohol sponsorship in motorsport.

Diageo sponsors both McLaren and Force India through its Johnnie Walker and Smirnoff brands and is therefore one of the sports largest sponsors.

However its promotional activites are under threat from Eurocare which has written to FIA president Jean Todt urging him to take action and ban such promotion because it encourages drink driving.

The letter adds that it goes against EU regulations which limit alcohol advertising.

"It runs against the EU Directive which states that marketing for the consumption of alcohol should not be linked to driving.

"Moreover, the current association between alcohol and driving does not seem to fall in the category of 'the widespread promotion of responsible drinking messages', part of the mission supported by the alcohol industry itself."

Gates however believes F1 is a useful marketing tool to promote the 'don't drink and drive' message which he says has reached over "half a billion" people through Diageo's F1 sponsorship.

"We've been involved in F1 for over a decade, and in that time responsible drinking has been at the heart of our campaign," he told the 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."

Diageo holds various events and produces marketing material supporting the message. Most recently, Mika Hakkinen, Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen attended a Johnnie Walker event in Edinburgh to push the message further.

"People like Jenson, Kevin and Mika have influenced a certain demographic who are far more likely to listen to what they have to say," added Gates.

"They've been a force for good. When you hear Jenson and Mika talking about helping to save lives, they mean it and we mean it.

"Diageo has 370 responsible drinking campaigns in 50 countries around the world. It's something we're committed to.

"A lot of people have got the message and made a commitment (to not drink and drive) than if we were not involved.

"Naturally, we've people in our company who are mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, and we have a responsibility.

"We take that seriously and we do care, and that permeates everything we do, so we are incredibly careful about our responsibilities and how we market."