Tobacco ban 'to cost Europe eight races'

Motor racing
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The Independent Online
Growing pressure to ban tobacco advertising could cost western Europe all but four of its Formula One races, including the two in Italy, according to the Formula One impresario, Bernie Ecclestone.

"Italy will lose Monza and Imola, but without these sponsors all courses are in danger of dying," Ecclestone said in an interview published Tuesday in the Turin newspaper La Stampa.

La Stampa is controlled by the Agnelli family, which also owns Fiat, the car manufacturer, and its Ferrari subsidiary.

Ecclestone said the number of Formula One races in western Europe could dwindle to from 12 to four if tobacco companies are prohibited from advertising.

"Without this financing, some major teams couldn't continue their sporting activities," he told La Stampa.

Williams, who have won eight Formula One constructors' titles - including four of the last five, has Rothmans cigarettes as its title sponsor, and Marlboro sponsors the annual Grand Prix Guide.

Few other industries, Ecclestone added, can afford to spend as much as the tobacco companies. "If they have to abandon the field, it would be a disaster," he said.

The anti-smoking movement in Europe gained momentum recently when the new Labour government pledged to ban tobacco advertising in Britain. Ecclestone has been waging a counter-offensive, warning of the dire consequences for Europe of the loss of tobacco sponsorship.

"We have the right to cancel any [Formula One] race when the running of the race, for whatever reason, is put in danger," said Ecclestone, who is also a vice president of the international motor-racing federation, the FIA. "In a case where the sponsors would no longer get a decent return, we'd have to reconsider our schedule."