The iconic Marlboro livery used in Formula 1, Rally and other racing series.

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Inside the Marlboro livery

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 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 for banners and liveries.

James Hunt for Mclaren Honda
James Hunt = beer + Marlboro’s + girls (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 symbolized 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 a Marlboro livery

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.

Marlboro livery is one of those rare liveries that stays on your mind from 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 favorite of these Marlboro liveries is the Lancia Stratos which dominated 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. 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.

Marlboro Livery on the McLaren F1 GTR

The iconic Marlboro livery used in Formula 1, Rally and other racing series.
BPR Series round 11 in Zhuhai 1996

The McLaren F1 GTR is a racing trim of the legendary F1 and is powered by a BMW V12.

For the final round of BPR International Endurance GT Series in the Zhuhai 4 hours, the McLaren F1 GTRs numbered 2 and 6 raced decorated with the big red chevron. They finished 3rd and 4th behind a Porsche 911 GT1 and a Ferrari F40 GTE. The 3rd place car was driven by Bellm, Weaver and Lehto, and the 4th place car by Raphanel and Brabham.

The 1996 season was won by Bellm and Weaver and the McLaren F1 GTR. The series was ended the same year and in 1997 became the FIA GT series. Out of all the cars except the F1 racers with the Marlboro livery, the F1 GTR is the fastest.

Ferrari 308 GTB in Baja Montesblancos

Ferrari 308 GTB in Marlboro livery
Ferrari 308 GTB in Marlboro livery

The Ferrari 308 GTB Rally car is a bit bizarre. Rocks and dust aren’t the first elements we think of when we see a Ferrari but this one was made to combat just that. It took part in the Baja Montesblancos raid rally in Spain which was gruesome. The conditions were hot and sadly the 308 didn’t finish because of heat-caused problems. The inside of the car was about 50 degrees celsius which is almost unbearable in itself. All in all this car was probably the closes thing for a burning cigarette of any car with a Marlboro livery.

Racing inside the car were Antonio Zanini and his co-driver Carmelo Ezpeleta.

The rally-spec 308 which took part in the infamous Group B wasn’t made by Ferrari themselves but in partnership with Michelotto which is an Italian company specialized in building race cars. The first event it took part in was the 1978 Targa Florio and the last event was the 1986 San Marino rally. From ’78 to ’86 the Ferrari had 99 starts in 66 events but was plagued with reliability issues retiring 40% of the time. Notably, it did achieve 7 victories and 18 podiums with the first victory being in the 1981 Targa Florio.

Marlboro livery on the Porsche 4×4

The iconic Marlboro livery used in Formula 1, Rally and other racing series.
Rally Tierra San Vicente 1991

The Marlboro Porsche 911 proto 4×4 took part in events like Rally Tierra San Vicente and Baja Montesblancos. It is one of the funniest Marlboro’d machines and also had perhaps the biggest front logo of any Porsche ever. Driven again by Zanini It is one of those rare examples where a clash of 2 different worlds produces something very exciting, serious and lighthearted at the same time.

Old Porsches have always aged fabulously and kept their relevancy and the rally Porsches have been very exciting, winning events like the Paris-Dakar with R. Metge in 1984. In ’84 the 4×4 911 was also the first four-wheel-drive Porsche since the system from the 959 was installed on it.

porsche 911 4x4 marlboro
Marlboro Porsche

Toyota Supra GT LM

Toyota Supra in Marlboro livery from Zhuhai 1995
Toyota Supra in Marlboro livery from Zhuhai 1995

BPR Global GT Endurance Stage 3 Hours Zhuhai, 1995. The race took place on a rough street track and the Supra was slower than expected. It was driven by former F1 drivers JJ Lehto and Yannick Dalmas (DNF) and the second car was driven by Phillipe Alliot and Henri Raphanel (11th). It competed in the GT1 group, all the podium places of the race went to the McLaren F1 GTR.


There are still multiple other times when Marlboro liveries have been present on a car, it’s impossible to cover them all in a single article, in fact, there are enough stories for a book. For example the Mitsubishi WRC car, then other F1 teams, or GP racing with bikes which all deserve a post in the future.

Extra reading: James Hunt

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    Karl Aleksander Kivimägi
    Karl Aleksander Kivimägi

    I love the historic, funny and otherwise funky stories of motorsports. In my free time I turn on the TV to watch F1 and occasionally WRC. My favourite cars are old, red and Italian.

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