Williams wins Budweiser's £50m chaser

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The Independent Online

Sir Frank Williams, the founder and head of the BMW WilliamsF1 team, will on Wednesday announce that Budweiser is paying a massive £50m to sponsor the Formula One team.

The beer maker will become one of three lead sponsors, alongside technology group HP and Allianz, the German insurer. The five-year deal, which starts next season, comes of top of sponsorship agreements already struck this year by Williams with GlaxoSmithKline, Oris Watches, Western Union and Xilinx. The team also has a sponsorship deal with Accenture, Reuters and FedEx.

Williams, along with the other big Formula One teams, has been trying to bring in major new sponsors to replace the traditional income from tobacco companies.

Not long ago most teams had tobacco sponsors; now only three - Ferrari, McLaren and Jordan - carry cigarette branding, though another team, BAR, is owned by the tobacco company BAT.

The deal Williams struck with GlaxoSmithKline, promoting NiQuitin, the stop- smoking product, was seen as a ground-breaking deal and was praised by health charities.

Although the Budweiser deal is only half the size of Formula One's record sponsorship, the £100m paid over three years by Vodafone to Ferrari, it may be seen as a turning point in the fortunes of the sport. Motor racing has been dogged by controversy, declining viewing figures and accusations of being boring.

Williams has been doing its best to liven up the sport, thanks to a resurgence this season. The last two races, the French and European Grand Prix, were won by Williams' Ralf Schumacher, the younger brother of Ferrari's world champion, Michael. Second place was also taken by a Williams driver, the Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya.

The announcement comes ahead of next Sunday's British Grand Prix, which has been threatened because of the poor state of the infrastructure around the Silverstone circuit. The Government is set to announce aid for the circuit in the next few days.