Formula 1: Drive to Survive on Netflix criticized for tobacco advertising

Formula 1: Drive to Survive on Netflix criticized for tobacco advertising

Formula 1: Drive to Survive on Netflix criticized for tobacco advertising

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Netflix’s popular Formula 1 show is providing tobacco giants with a quick and effective marketing tool to circumvent advertising bans for their products, industry watchers said on Wednesday.


The behind-the-scenes Formula 1 streaming series Drive to Survive has been hugely popular on Netflix, which recently released the fifth season.

But campaigners warn that as well as boosting the popularity of motorsport, the show is also bringing the branding of cigarette makers who sponsor F1 teams into homes around the world, including in countries where advertising on tobacco is prohibited.

In a new report, F1 industry monitor Formula Money and tobacco industry watchdog STOP claimed that in Drive to Survive’s fourth season alone, “a total of 1.1 billion minutes of footage broadcast worldwide contained tobacco-related content”.

And half of all episodes this season contained tobacco-related branding within the first minute, according to the report titled: “Driving Addiction: F1, Netflix and Cigarette Company Advertising.”

The branding of Ferrari sponsor Philip Morris International (PMI) and McLaren sponsor British American Tobacco (BAT) “featured extensively in the series, with extensive storylines following the teams’ drivers”, the report said.

“Research suggests PMI and BAT are reaching new audiences through the show, including people who don’t otherwise watch F1 racing,” he added.

Younger audience

Wednesday’s report showed Drive to Survive viewers were younger than typical F1 audiences, and also suggested it had helped boost F1 racing viewership significantly beyond the Netflix series.

“This increase in viewership means more people are seeing the brand that F1 sponsors place on the cars and the livery,” he said.

“Netflix has a responsibility not to broadcast content that promotes, even indirectly, brands of cigarette manufacturers,” STOP’s Jorge Alday told AFP.

Netflix did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A global treaty has called for the elimination of all tobacco advertising, the use of which, according to the World Health Organization, kills more than eight million people every year.

And the International Automobile Federation (FIA), the governing body of Formula 1, has for two decades advised against tobacco company sponsorship in sport.

Tobacco companies have since stopped advertising their traditional cigarette brands with F1, but have in some cases continued to promote new alternative products like e-cigarettes.

“They live in this gray area around what is and what isn’t tobacco marketing,” Alday said.

Contacted by AFP, the FIA ​​said it “remains firmly opposed to tobacco advertising and continues to stick to its 2003 recommendations”.

However, he said, “we are not in a position to interfere with private commercial agreements between teams and their sponsors, nor with broadcast agreements”.

Formula 1 meanwhile insisted that “all advertising complies with applicable laws”.

Advertising through historical images

Wednesday’s report revealed that PMI and BAT spent around $40m on F1 advertising in 2022.

Vuse e-cigarettes and BAT’s Velo nicotine pouches “were the most prominent brands in the McLaren livery throughout the season,” the report said.

He pointed out that the brand of these products appeared in 13 of the 22 races, including the Mexico City Grand Prix, despite strong advertising restrictions imposed by Mexico.

PMI, one of F1’s oldest and longest-running sponsors, meanwhile cut back its spending considerably last year.

Although he remained a partner of Ferrari, his logos and designs no longer appeared on the team’s cars, according to the report.

Contacted by AFP, the company’s vice-president of international communications, Tommaso Di Giovanni, insisted that the partnership between Netflix and F1 “has nothing to do with us”, insisting that that it had stopped marking the products on cars and drivers’ clothes since 2007.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s report claimed the tobacco giant, which has spent nearly $2.4 billion on advertising since entering the sport in 1971, has continued to leverage the Netflix series through historical pictures.

Report co-author Caroline Reid of Formula Money pointed out in a statement that a single “minute of historical footage featured five different brands of cigarettes, including PMI’s Marlboro.”

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