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Europe’s largest beer company, Heineken, have formed a strong partnership with Formula 1 in recent years. The benefits have been mutual, as the growth of their responsible drinking campaign has helped both brands push an important message to F1 fans.

In 2016, Heineken signed a 5 year sponsorship deal with Formula 1 starting from the 2017 season. Different sources report that the deal is valued in the region of $150 million$250 million! This partnership isn’t Heineken’s first in the sporting world, as it follows other successful partnerships with the UEFA Champions league and the Rugby World Cup.

From a distance, this may look like a straightforward sponsorship deal. Heineken is one of the world’s leading beer companies, whilst Formula 1 is one of the most popular sports in the world with a global fanbase. Surely their partnership requires little explanation? Heineken benefit from being a title partner to a fast-growing sport, which offers massive commercial and engaging entertainment opportunities whilst F1 gain financially from a big sponsorship fee. However, when you address the elephant in the room, you understand that this partnership isn’t actually that simple…

The Official F1 beer sponsor

It’s important to remember that Heineken is a beer company, and F1 is a sport which sees supercars race against each other every other weekend. When the partnership as Official Beer Sponsor was announced, critics drew a lot of attention to the dangerous mix of alcohol and driving- let alone racing at over 200 mph. Many were concerned about the world’s leading motorsport being publicly linked to a major killer on the road, and among those concerned was the European Alcohol Policy Alliance. The body represents 57 public health organisations, working towards reducing alcohol-related harm in 25 European countries. In 2016 they voiced their concerns in a letter to the FIA, highlighting the fact driving under the influence of alcohol contributes to over 10,000 deaths a year in the EU. F1 and Heineken responded with their ‘Think Before You Drive’ campaign. You can’t miss the campaign’s slogans at F1 events- they’re everywhere and they have helped to break the stigma surrounding this partnership.

Learn more about this campaign and the complexities of the unlikely Heineken-F1 partnership…

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What the deal involves: ‘When You Drive, Never Drink’

The deal, which runs until the end of 2023, gives Heineken title sponsorship of 3 races a season, and track branding at 6 further events. This was attractive to Heineken as they recognised the upwards trend that F1 is on, with the sport breaking into new markets in recent years. Gianluca Di Tondo, senior director of the Heineken brand, said, ‘This partnership complements our existing global platforms, enabling us to reach F1’s huge spectator numbers and 400 million unique television viewers every year’. On top of this, Di Tondo highlighted their intention to expand the brand’s responsible drinking platform together with the sport. This should start to make it easier to understand why Heineken chose to sponsor F1- there isn’t a better place for them to promote their anti-drink driving message than at an F1 race track.

The partnership centres around the slogan, ‘When You Drive, Never Drink,’ and it has seen the two brands’ respective responsible drinking campaigns merge. Bernie Ecclestone, the CEO of Formula 1 at the time, said he had been thinking about starting a ‘Think Before You Drive,’ campaign at F1 events. It’s easy to see why this partnership makes sense then- it’s not just about making financial gains, but also about pushing an important joint message.

The ‘When You Drive, Never Drink’ campaign was launched back in February 2020, with a short film featuring F1 legends, Keke and Nico Rosenberg. The commercial uses two former world champions, father and son, to highlight that no matter how confident a driver you are, you should never drink and drive- it finishes with the quote, ‘The better driver is the one that doesn’t drink’.

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How Heineken are changing the fan experience

For a sponsorship to be successful, the two brands must become partners. There is evidence of this fact in F1 itself, as Petronas and Mercedes teamed up to dominate the sport in the 2010’s. Whilst, F1 has obviously benefited from being part of Heineken’s responsible drinking campaign, Heineken have also helped make the sport more interactive for fans. They put on fun events at various F1 race weekends and put out engaging content for fans on social media.

Those attending Grand Prix’s in person can enjoy a drink in the fan zone, take part in activities like the Pitstop Challenge, or test Esports car simulators among other things. For fans watching at home, Heineken and F1 have run competitions for prizes like a special Pit Wall Bar, which comes with multiple screens, racing team headphones, and of course a Heineken 0.0 tap!

On top of these exciting activities, Heineken have also helped boost online engagement in the build up to Grand Prix’s as they run branded media with F1 footage- including interviews, highlights etc.

Last year, leading up to the inaugural Miami Grand Prix, the ‘When You Drive, Never Drink’ campaign was refreshed, with a new advert starring drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Sergio Perez. It again pushed the two brands’ important message to fans, in a city famous for its nightlife. To encourage fans to get safe rides that weekend, Heineken teamed up with Uber to offer discount codes across the US.

After being the title sponsor for the exciting inaugural Miami Grand Prix, it was recently announced Heineken will also be the title sponsor for one of the most anticipated races on the 2023 F1 calendar– the Las Vegas Grand Prix.

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End note

Heineken’s influence in F1 continues to grow as, just the other day, they signed a deal with the Red Bull F1 team, which will see their iconic logo on the helmet of the reigning world champion, Max Verstappen. A couple of years ago this news may have stirred up criticism from fans, understandably worried about the growing presence of alcohol in F1. However, Heineken have done well to silence critics through their compelling initiatives as the official F1 beer sponsor, and as a result they have ensured that all parties reap the maximum rewards from this special partnership.

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Emanuele Venturoli
Emanuele Venturoli
A graduate in Public, Social and Political Communication from the University of Bologna, he has always been passionate about marketing, design and sport.
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