Renault title sponsor to depart

Renault's title sponsor, Mild Seven, will withdraw from Formula One at the end of the 2006 season, parent company Japan Tobacco confirmed this week, in compliance with the International Tobacco Products Marketing Standards agreement to end sports...

Renault's title sponsor, Mild Seven, will withdraw from Formula One at the end of the 2006 season, parent company Japan Tobacco confirmed this week, in compliance with the International Tobacco Products Marketing Standards agreement to end sports sponsorship.

Mild Seven entered into partnership with the team, then Benetton, in 1994 but will now join the ranks of other tobacco companies that have, or by the end of the year will, quit F1, including West, British American Tobacco and Benson and Hedges. Ferrari is thought to be continuing its tobacco association with Marlboro beyond 2006.

"The departure of cigarettes in 2007 is not easy to replace," said Renault team president Patrick Faure at the launch of the R26 in Monaco. "They were really paying a good part of the budget. I don't see easily one sponsor replacing them. But I think we can find two or three smaller sponsors who can share the space."

Mild Seven's departure adds fuel to the fire of speculation that Renault itself might quit the sport at the end of 2007. However company CEO and president Carlos Ghosn claimed that as long as F1 continues "to have a good, fair return on investments for car manufacturers in general and for the winner in particular, then we must be there."

Faure denied that it was Renault's supposedly dubious commitment to F1 that led to champion Fernando Alonso's decision to leave the team in 2007 to join rivals McLaren. Alonso was quoted as saying that Renault could have made more of an effort to keep him and the move was not about wanting more money but about the future.

Faure claimed the decision was Alonso's alone -- reportedly even the Spaniard's manager, and Renault managing director, Flavio Briatore was not involved -- and he did not discuss it with Renault. "He never asked us," Faure said. "He never asked me the question 'Are you going to be there in 2007 or 08?' because I would have answered yes."

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Fernando Alonso , Flavio Briatore
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Benetton