Looking Back On 70 Years Of High-Octane Racing.
Ahead of Formula One’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone, motorsport marketing legend John Hogan gives CSM his defining moments in the sport’s history.
A commercial powerhouse within motor racing for over four decades, Hogan was, alongside the likes of Bernie Ecclestone, one of the most influential characters in F1, responsible for negotiating the first-ever commercial sponsorship deal with Enzo Ferrari and spearheading Philip Morris’ iconic association with F1.
Nicknamed the ‘Marlboro Man’ by some, F1 insiders claimed that Hogan’s multi-million marketing budgets and decisions could determine the future of drivers and teams. Now aged 76, he continues to work as a consultant for CSM and remains a fixture in the F1 paddock when not relaxing at his home in Switzerland.
Motorsport’s early superstars
There are seminal figures in F1’s history and one of those is unquestionably Juan Manuel Fangio, the driver of the early era. Fangio, who won five world championship titles in the 1950s, was one of the most gifted drivers the sport has ever seen. He was simply amazing.
The mid-fifties saw Fangio and my favourite driver Stirling Moss become the first superstars of motorsport. An extraordinary man, Moss was very much the Lewis Hamilton of his day.
It’s important to remember that if you were a top driver in those days, then you drove both sportscars and F1 cars. Moss was the master of that, and at Brands Hatch in 1950 I remember him winning five races on the same day!
Enzo Ferrari and the Garagistas
One of the big debates throughout motorsport’s history has been the importance of engines versus aerodynamics. Enzo Ferrari once said that “aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines”.
Enzo used to love getting people wound up, and when the privateer British teams really started making their names in F1 and beating Ferrari, he didn’t like it. He thought it was a sin for teams not to make their own engines, so labelled them the ‘Garagistas’.
If anything, that criticism spurred on the likes of Lotus – who won seven constructors’ titles and six drivers’ titles between 1963 and 1978 – led by designer Colin Chapman. An engineering genius, Colin is one of the most important people to have ever been involved in F1 and took innovation in the sport to new heights.
Bernie Ecclestone – the man who made F1 a business
Bernie Ecclestone was the man who made F1 the business it is today, but his involvement in the sport grew from much more humble beginnings.
Bernie was involved in a British team called Vanwall in the 1950s, owned by businessman Tony Vandervell, who was becoming unhappy with Ferrari getting the lion’s share of ‘start money’, the appearances fees paid back then for starting a race.
Vandervell asked Ecclestone to try and find a solution, and he went on to show he was a commercial man who could out-fumble anyone and help the team owners, who were making no money at that time. He became ‘the promoter’ of F1 effectively by de facto and the rest is history.
The infancy of sponsorship
Whilst oil companies had always been involved in supporting motorsport teams, the aforementioned Colin Chapman was the first man to bring proper sponsorship into F1 in 1968, with Gold Leaf Team Lotus.
Everyone had seen how successful Indycar was at branding, but somehow F1 hadn’t managed to work it out before then. It’s quite remarkable to think that back then people didn’t believe in putting branding on the cars. It just wasn’t the done thing.
When I joined Philip Morris in 1973, we started by putting branding on the car, then onto the circuit, grid girls and drivers’ overalls. At the time, my mission was to get as much branding around the circuit as I could, because we weren’t allowed to advertise on TV. I see the great work we’re doing now at CSM with motorsport partnerships and it’s infinitely more sophisticated than what we were doing in those days.
During that era, Jackie Stewart also began a personal sponsorship with Rolex, which was very well promoted. That was the very first time that a sportsperson had been associated with a super-luxury brand, and when you look at the multi-million-dollar endorsements of today’s sports stars, it’s fair to say it all started with Jackie.
Going global with Hunt v Lauda
The 1976 Japanese Grand Prix will forever be remembered as one of F1’s most iconic races, but it was also the event that made F1 a global TV product overnight.
In those days there was virtually no television. Brands Hatch used to pay the BBC to come and broadcast the Grand Prix.
By the end of 1976, James Hunt’s profile and Niki Lauda’s accident had transcended motorsport. The Championship went down to the last race, with just one point in it, but the broadcasters suddenly realised nobody had the Grand Prix.
Ever the entrepreneur, Bernie Ecclestone sat them all down and said they had to broadcast this Grand Prix and every race of next season, front-to-back, and pay a fee for the rights. The interest in Hunt and Lauda was so high that they all agreed to the deal, and F1 immediately became a global TV sport, broadcast in 15 or so major countries.
The phenomenal ‘turbo era’
The ‘turbo era’ of the 1980s produced some of the most exhilarating racing F1 has ever seen. The engines were like hand grenades and whilst they could only do three qualifying laps on full power, it was phenomenal to see.
Brabham, then owned by Bernie Ecclestone, had one of the quickest cars on the grid, powered by four-cylinder turbo-charged BMW engines that could produce 1,500 horsepower.
Bernie used to like getting his drivers Riccardo Patrese and Nelson Piquet wound-up, and one year Patrese turned up at the Italian Grand Prix and completed a qualifying lap of Monza averaging 160mph.
It was an astonishing time for motorsport fans, but a hugely expensive one for the teams. Teams like McLaren were getting through 15 engines every race weekend.
The teams who mastered the perfect package
From Fangio’s Mercedes team of the 1950s through to the Mercedes team of now, a feature of F1 has been teams enjoying periods of dominance. Over the years we’ve seen teams define their own era – Lotus in the seventies, McLaren in the eighties, Williams in the nineties and Ferrari and Red Bull in the 2000s.
The defining link between all these teams is the ability to create the perfect package, a combination of producing a dangerously quick car and an exceptional driver, underpinned by a great supporting cast of mechanics, marketers, strategists and analysts. While the focus is always the car or the driver, without the other elements you can’t dominate an era in the way that many of those teams did.
The greats of the modern era
It’s difficult to compare drivers between eras, especially given how greats like Ayrton Senna were taken from the sport too early. But the record books show, for the time being, Michael Schumacher as the sport’s only seven-time world champion.
You see good drivers all the time, but the exceptional ones can be spotted almost instantly. I remember being at Spa in 1991 when Schumacher made his debut as a stand-in for Bertrand Gachot at Jordan. He qualified seventh with a phenomenal lap in the wet, and I said to someone “f*** he’s special!”.
What Hamilton is doing now is equally remarkable. He’s an exceptional talent and I’m sure will overtake Schumacher as the most decorated driver in F1 history and rightly one of the all-time greats alongside Senna and Fangio.
Photo Credits: LAT Images