Marlboro liveries (1/2): The iconic look in Formula 1 and Rally

The lifestyle of Marlboro Liveries

You just woke up and start off the day with a breakfast which happens to be a lady you brought home the day before, she was cheering you up on your practice sessions. After the breakfast you open a bottle of beer and grab your Marlboros. You smoke the pack and go to work. Your office looks like the pack of Marlboro’s you just finished. POV you are James Hunt driving for McLaren. Your racing suit has a badge that reads “Sex – breakfast of champions”. It’s 1976. The heyday of playboy racers in which tobacco and racing go hand in hand. And the main action isn’t happening between your lips and fingers but between the racing teams and tobacco companies. The sponsorship money coming in from the cigarette sellers is enormous. Up until 2006 when the FIA banned tobacco advertising, billions of dollars were pumped into motorsports in exchange of banners and liveries.

James Hunt for Mclaren Honda
James Hunt (F1 champ in 1976)

And to be fair Formula 1 and tobacco really were a perfect match, at least back then. Nowadays we are used to the safe and high-tech portrayal of the sport but back then it was a bit more like theatre. The drivers were mad and so were the tracks, spectators and cars. The madness in fact was the secret sauce that made it so thrilling. Obviously these days F1 is a more “serious” sport. Partly helped change by champions like Michael Schumacher. He took personal fitness sternly and added a new dimension to the level of detail and commitment drivers need to have to be the best of the best. But back then it was different. Not that the drivers weren’t serious, they were, but they were also on the edge of insanity. And looking at the insanity of F1 (and other motorsports) through the prism of tobacco liveries is actually quite suiting because of the lifestyle tobacco symbolised at that time.

The Marlboro liveries in Formula 1

Perhaps the most iconic livery of all of F1 has come from the McLaren and Marlboro partnership. In total Marlboro was McLaren’s title sponsor for 23 seasons in a row before being replaced by West. But McLaren wasn’t their first partner. Their first was BRM (British Racing Motors) and the P160 & P180 in the 1972 season. While the team isn’t around anymore it was still important. It was a springboard for Niki Lauda who drove for them in 1973. When driving there Enzo Ferrari noticed the talent of Lauda and signed him for the next season. Another notable driver for BRM is Graham Hill with whom they won the constructor’s and driver’s championship in 1962.

Marlboro liveries, 1972 F1
BRM P180 in 1972, the first year for Marlboro liveries

The first year on which the red-white combination appeared on a McLaren was the 1974 season with Emmerson Fittipaldi and Denny Hulme as the drivers. That year McLaren won their first constructors’ title and Fittipaldi won the drivers’. From there on they became one of the dominating forces in F1 having won 20 titles in total since then. The best of the best have driven under that livery. Including Ayrton Senna, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, James Hunt, Gilles Villeneuve, Keke Rosberg and others. The M23 chassis that won the first titles was used from 1973 to 1978 and alongside Fittipaldi the other champion in this car was James Hunt in 1976.

It’s one of those rare liveries that stays on your mind from the first glance. One of its trumps is the visual simplicity. It doesn’t try to be fancy, it is in fact quite robust and “edgy” thanks to the high contrast between the white background, the red chevron and black text. The early and later Marlboro liveries were a bit different but the rendition seen on the picture with Senna has become one of the most iconic tobacco liveries and one of the best liveries ever seen in racing in general.

Marlboro liveries. McLaren Senna
Ayrton Senna, Spanish Grand Prix

Marlboro and Scuderia Ferrari

The second most popular partnership between a Formula 1 team and Marlboro is with Scuderia Ferrari. Marlboro began sponsoring Ferrari in 1984 and became the main sponsor in 1993 and is still sponsoring Ferrari through the Mission Winnow brand. On Ferrari cars Marlboro liveries have been a little bit less visually prominent due to the fact that the red Ferrari livery itself is so powerful. The white circle on the 93′ car was a more unique take than previous Marlboro liveries and focused less on the oversized chevron. That gave more room to other sponsors logos and gave the cars a more cohesive look overall plus the black background makes the yellow accents really pop. Another aesthetic advantage was the fact that in the 90s the shapes of the cars became much more streamlined and simple. In contrast, the cars in the 70s were… weird at times. For example featuring six wheels (Tyrrell P34) or a surfboard instead of the front wing (March 711) but that’s a whole article for next time.

Marlboro liveries. Scuderia Ferrari
The 1993 Ferrari F93a
Marlboro and Scuderia Ferrari
F2004 dominated F1 with Schumacher


Marlboro has also sponsored multiple WRC teams like the works Lancia, Mitsubishi and Peugeot teams. My favourite of these Marlboro liveries is the Lancia Stratos which dominated the Group 4 in 74′, 75′ and 76′ seasons as well as Targa Florio in 1974 and won Tour de France Automobile five times. Its history and looks are unmatched. The curved windscreen and flat bonnet gives the car a mean stance and next to other automobiles it looks almost alien. There were also 2 exemplars made for Group 5 as an endurance sports car and featured an even more aggressive silhouette. The engine was a Ferrari sourced turbocharged V6.

Lancia Stratos in the Rallye Sanremo of 1974

The predecessor to the road going version of Stratos was the Stratos Zero concept car designed by Bertone. The design of this car started as an answer to other mid-engined rivals produced by Renault and Ford. The radical design of the concept car was inspired by space travel.

Other Marlboro Liveries

When it comes to Marlboro liveries then there is just so much to talk about. In the future I will cover other F1 teams, the Baja Montesblancos and Ferrari 308, the McLaren F1 GTR and the Group C Porsche. There are also other iconic tobacco brands (West, Camel, John Player & Sons) that have made their mark on motorsports which will also be covered in the future. Thank you for reading! If you want to support us then don’t forget to pick something up from our shop!

Extra reading: James Hunt

    Default image
    Karl Aleksander Kivimägi
    I like learning about the history of motorsports, watching F1 and occasionally WRC. My favourite cars are old, red and Italian. By trade I'm a designer but my passion is writing.

    Leave a Reply