The most iconic sponsor liveries in racing: Rothmans, Gulf, Canon

Racing cars are a fast-moving billboard – a great way for sponsors to get their message across to the masses – which have created some memorable colour schemes and partnerships. Here are our favourites across the decades.

John Player Special & Lotus

Photo by: Sutton Images

Black and gold, with a yellow helmet. But Ayrton Senna’s 1986 season was the bookend on this relationship, which began with the Lotus 72. From Emerson Fittipaldi, through Ronnie Peterson, Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell and Elio de Angelis – some true greats drove for Lotus in these colours. Cigarette producer John Player’s original sponsorship of the team came via its Gold Leaf brand – its red and white scheme was pretty cool too.

555 & Subaru

Photo by: Subaru World Rally Team

State Express 555, for its full title, is a UK tobacco brand that became very popular in Asia. Its association with the Subaru WRC squad began in 1993 and ran to 2004, during which time it won the Drivers’ Championship in 1995 (Colin McRae, pictured), 2001 (Richard Burns) and 2003 (Petter Solberg). The blue/yellow colour scheme continued even after the sponsorship ended.

Goodwrench & Dale Earnhardt/RCR

Photo by: General Motors

Voted the most-iconic paint scheme in NASCAR (beating the yellow/blue Wrangler livery), GM’s Goodwrench repair service brand started its title sponsorship of Dale Earnhardt’s Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet in 1988. The ‘Intimidator’ was now also ‘The Man in Black’, and it would be associated with him right until him untimely death in 2001.

Gulf & Porsche

Photo by: Porsche Cars North America

Porsche’s 917K is a fabulous car. Gulf Oil is an awesome colour scheme. Put them together, and make a 1971 film called Le Mans starring Steve McQueen, and you’ve got yourself a true icon.

Marlboro & McLaren

Photo by: XPB Images

No fewer than nine Formula 1 Drivers’ Championships were won in Marlboro-sponsored McLarens, making it one of the most successful partnerships of all time. It began in 1974, with Emerson Fittipaldi’s title success, which was followed by James Hunt (1976), Niki Lauda (’84), Alain Prost (’85-’86), Ayrton Senna (’88, pictured), then Prost again (’89) and Senna again (’90-’91). Seven Constructors’ titles were also claimed in that time.

Miller & Penske

Photo by: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

MillerCoors has been associated with Team Penske for over 25 years, most notably on its NASCAR Sprint Cup outfit, which started in 1991. But perhaps the gold/white scheme of Miller’s High Life brand has never looked better than on Danny Sullivan’s stunning PC-17 Indycar.

Silk Cut & Jaguar

Photo by: Philippe Hubert

From the purple and white of the XJR-8 (the XJR-9 is pictured) through to the full-purple XJR-14 – that was basically a closed-cockpit F1 car – the Silk Cut Jags became a phenomenon. Le Mans was its cathedral, where thousands of Brits came to pay homage – and celebrated famous wins in 1988 and ’90. World Sportcar titles were won by Raul Boesel, Martin Brundle and Teo Fabi. A shout-out too for the cool Castrol livery used in IMSA.

Benetton & Benetton

Photo by: Sutton Images

The Italian knitwear firm dabbled with Tyrrell, Alfa Romeo and Toleman before buying the latter in 1985. Gerhard Berger scored its first win in Mexico a year later, and Thierry Boutsen (pictured) was a podium regular in that era. But Michael Schumacher was its true star, winning two F1 World Championships in 1994 and ’95. In 2002, it became Renault F1.

Repsol & Honda

Photo by: Hazrin Yeob Men Shah

The now-ubiquitous colours of Spanish oil giant Repsol first adorned Honda’s Grand Prix bikes in 1995, and 21 years on the partnership still goes strong. Champions Mick Doohan, Alex Criville, Valentino Rossi, Nicky Hayden, Casey Stoner and Marc Marquez have all contributed to the legend.

Target & Chip Ganassi Racing

Photo by: Sutton Images

The red/white colours of the American discount retailer first appeared on Chip Ganassi’s cars in the early ’90s, but by the second half of the decade it was dominating US open-wheel racing with CART titles for Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi and Juan Pablo Montoya. Its move to the IRL saw more success, with Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon also winning titles and Indy 500s. The 27-year association on the IndyCar side concludes at the end of this season.

Rothmans & Porsche

Photo by: Philippe Hubert

The shape of Group C sportscars leant themselves to be mobile cigarette packets, so Rothmans jumped at the chance to sponsor the factory Porsche squad in the 1980s. From the 956 to 962C (pictured) it would win the Le Mans 24 hours three times (1983, ’86 and ’87) as a partnership, which concluded at the end of the 1987 season.

Leyton House & March

Photo by: Sutton Images

This was a strange little episode in F1 history as a Japanese real estate agent first sponsored the March team (pictured), then bought it. The team’s peak came in the 1990 French GP, which Ivan Capelli led and almost won. But team owner Akira Akagi was implicated in a financial scandal, and the team – which had boasted Adrian Newey as designer – imploded from there. The memory of its aquamarine blue colour scheme has certainly outlived the squad.

Martini & Lancia

Photo by: Philippe Hubert

Italian distillery Martini & Rossi first began sponsoring racing cars in 1962, but its colours didn’t appear until ’68. Although first associated with Porsche, winning Le Mans in 1971 and ’76-’77, as well as Alfa and Lotus in F1, it switched to Lancia for the 1980s – when a legendary tie-up began. From the sportscar programme (pictured is the LC2-83/85 Group C car) and World Rally exploits, the white-with-red-and-blue-striped livery adorned legendary 037, Delta S4 and Delta Integrale machinery. Juha Kankkunen and Miki Biasion were both crowned world champions in the ’80s.

West & McLaren

Photo by: Sutton Images

After dabbling in F1 with Zakspeed in the second half of the 1980s, as Germany became its cigarette market stronghold, West’s deal to be the title sponsor of the McLaren team from 1997-2005 truly put it on the map. Mika Hakkinen’s titles in 1998-’99 ensures this partnership’s legacy.

Lucky Strike & Kevin Schwantz/Suzuki

Photo by: Anthony Rew

In a golden era of 500cc bike racing, Kevin Schwantz became one of its true heroes. His do-or-die style seemed to fit the “Lucky Strike” message on his fairings, but the 1993 World Championship – and 25 top-level wins – showed he possessed great skill too.

Kmart & Newman/Haas

Photo by: IndyCar Series

Kmart wasn’t the most glamorous sponsor a team could have, but its loyalty to Newman/Haas Racing reaped dividends. The 15-year partnership that was founded in 1988 saw Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell and Cristiano da Matta score Indy car titles and numerous race wins, and this trio – along with Mario Andretti and Christian Fittipaldi – ensured the traditionally black ‘n’ white cars stayed prominent.

Renown & Mazda

Photo by: Rainier Ehrhardt

Who knew that a funky green/orange livery of a textile manufacturer would be the perfect colour scheme to showcase Mazda’s rotary-engined 787B for its historic victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1991? It’s a livery that is still being used today.

Elf & Tyrrell

Photo by: Bob Heathcote

Elf was one of the prime movers behind Ken Tyrrell moving up to Formula 1 in the first place, and it was the reason behind his cars mostly running in French blue. As well as Jackie Stewart’s epic trio of F1 titles in 1969, ’71 and ’73, Elf was still onboard for the dramatic P34 six-wheeler efforts (pictured) in 1976.

Marlboro & Ducati

Photo by: Ducati Corse

Associated with Yamaha for many years, Marlboro switched its allegiance to the then-new Ducati MotoGP outfit in time for its first season in 2003. Although explicit branding hasn’t appeared on the flanks of the Demosedici bikes since 2009, the iconic cigarette brand maintains its association with the Italian squad to this day.

Pennzoil & Penske

Photo by: IndyCar Series

This Shell petrochemical company has long been associated with Penske, and its Pennzoil brand started in 1983. It won the Indy 500 with Rick Mears (pictured) in 1984 and ’88. That legacy continues with its colours being carried at Indy by Helio Castroneves, while Joey Logano carries its branding in 33 NASCAR Sprint Cup events.

Castrol & Toyota

Photo by: Dave Dyer

Castrol’s colours first adorned the Toyota WRC team’s Corollas off the back of Carlos Sainz’s 1992 championship success. But with Sainz now at Lancia, it continued to win titles with Juha Kankkunen (1993) and Didier Auriol (pictured, ’94). The team was then banned from the WRC after it was found to be using an illegal mechanism to cheat the air restrictor. It returned, although most memorably for Sainz’s co-driver Luis Moya throwing his helmet through the car’s rear window when they lost a title shot in the closing round.

Canon & Williams

Photo by: Williams F1

Japanese imaging and camera giant Canon joined the Williams sponsor roster for 1985, just as its Honda engine deal began to bear fruit. Four wins should have led to a title in ’86, only for disaster to strike in the Adelaide finale, but title success with Williams came in its colours in ’87, ’92 and ’93 – before the Rothmans revamp meant it vanished in ’94.

Camel & Yamaha

Photo by: Camel Media Service

The famous canary yellow of Camel arrived in MotoGP with the Pons Honda team in 2003, before embarking on a fleeting but memorable partnership with Yamaha in 2006, the season that Valentino Rossi’s incredible run of premier class titles finally came to an end in a dramatic Valencia showdown.

DuPont & Jeff Gordon/Hendrick Motorsports

Photo by: NASCAR Media

Hands up who knew you could trace chemical giant DuPont’s history to a gunpowder mill? More well known is it’s ‘Rainbow Warrior’ scheme, Gordon carried its colours from 1992 to 2013, when a corporate rebranding exercise ended the association. During that time he won four Cup titles with Hendrick Motorsports.

Gitanes & Ligier

Photo by: Sutton Images

After buying the assets of Matra, French former rugby player/racing driver Guy Ligier left the sportscar field to make a huge impact in Formula 1 by winning in only his second season as a constructor. His funding was provided by cigarette brand Gitanes – whose ‘gypsy woman’ logo often adorned its cars, and even led to occasional ‘art car’ liveries. The combination won eight Grands Prix before it was replaced by sister brand Gauloises in 1996, just before the team was sold to Prost for ’97.

Castrol & John Force

Photo by: David Reininger

Castrol has never enjoyed greater motorsport coverage than in its 29 years sponsoring John Force, who brought them a record-breaking 16 NHRA Funny Car titles. The association became synonymous with Ford Mustangs from 1997 onward, but Force, who has been driving for Chevrolet since the start of 2015, had GM roots, having campaigned under Corvette, Oldsmobile and Pontiac banners.

Red Bull & Sauber/Red Bull/Toro Rosso

Photo by: XPB Images

Energy drink giant Red Bull first entered Formula 1 by sponsoring Sauber from 1995 to 2004, but after buying the Jaguar squad from Ford it entered as a team in its own right from 2005. With Sebastian Vettel it won four back-to-back F1 drivers’ titles from 2010-’13, and were constructors’ champions in those years too. It also bought the Minardi F1 squad, rebranding its Scuderia Toro Rosso for 2006 – which won its first grand prix with Vettel in 2008.

Mobil & Peter Brock/Holden

Photo by: Holden Motorsport

Sensing a change in the wind regarding attitude to tobacco sponsorship, the Holden Dealer Team snapped up Mobil 1 to replace Marlboro as title sponsor for the 1985 Australian Touring Car Season. That led to a number of iconic Peter Brock/Mobil 1 Holdens (although there were Brock/Mobil 1 BMWs and Fords too). Mobil 1 continues to sponsor the Holden Racing Team to this day.

Parmalat & Brabham

Photo by: Sutton Images

Brabham’s dark blue and white colour scheme stretched for over a decade since 1980, and Italian dairy product sponsor Parmalat was already on board in its ‘red years’. But somehow that name, pictured here on Nelson Piquet’s BT52, just fits so well.

D2 & Mercedes

Photo by: Markus Arias-Roehner

Proving that great colour schemes can arise like a phoenix from the flames, not even the total implosion of the DTM (in its ITC guise) in 1996 could stop of the silver D2 livery of the AMG squad, led by Bernd Schneider, on its comeback season in 2000 before slowly getting absorbed into the Vodafone parent brand, which finally killed it off.

Sunoco & Porsche

Photo by: Porsche AG

OK, so it’s not a Gulf car, but even the 917K must quiver at the mention of 917/30. Its Can-Am big brother packed twin turbos, a flat-12 motor good for 1200bhp and 240mph. Sunoco’s dark blue/yellow signage is as straightfoward as the car itself.

Benson & Hedges & Jordan

Photo by: XPB Images

In 1996 the gold, and subsequently bright yellow, colours of cigarette brand B&H joined the Jordan F1 squad. Not only that, the cars soon adopted cartoon-like characters such as a snake and hornet (pictured) to give the design added character. Damon Hill scored its maiden win in 1998, and Heinz-Harald Frentzen almost scooped the title in ’99.

Budweiser & Kenny Bernstein

Photo by: Greg Gage

There were two King Kennys in US racing – for bikers, it was Kenny Roberts. For drag racers it was and remains Kenny Bernstein. Anheuser-Busch’s Bud King script looked very appropriate when Bernstein won four straight Funny Car titles in the late 80s. When he switched to Top Fuel and became the first NHRA driver to hit the 300mph mark, his position in history was secure. Then it was cemented in 1996 when he became the first driver to conquer both of NHRA’s nitro categories. He added to it with the 2001 title. Little wonder Budweiser stuck with KB for three decades.

NewMan & Joest Racing/Porsche

Photo by: Porsche AG

The Porsche 956 and 962C can certainly lay claim to being the car that’s had the most sponsor liveries adorned to it. But besides the Rothmans works cars, the pick of the privateer bunch was Joest Racing – which claimed Le Mans 24 Hours glory in NewMan (a fashion brand) colours in 1984 and ’85.

Bastos & Rover

Photo by: XPB Images

Tom Walkinshaw Racing had already conquered the British Touring Car Championship when he took on the British Leyland deal to run Rover 3500 Vitesse machines. In Europe, they ran in the red and white colours of the Bastos tobacco brand.

Gauloises & Yamaha

Photo by: Gauloises Fortuna Racing

After two years backing the satellite Tech 3 squad, Gauloises enjoyed three seasons as title sponsor to the factory Yamaha team – two of which were dominant campaigns for Valentino Rossi after his switch from Honda. No fewer than 20 of ‘The Doctor’s wins were achieved in the famous navy blue colours in 2004-05.

KOOL & Team Green

Photo by: Richard Sloop

KOOL cigarettes joined up with Barry and Kim Green’s team in 1997, when journeyman Parker Johnstone raced for them. But it was with Paul Tracy and Dario Franchitti aboard for five seasons, 1998-2002, that the team truly flourished and also produced striking liveries – none more so than when PT ran green, and Dario ran blue. The team would evolve into Andretti Green Racing in 2003.

Valvoline & Mark Martin/Roush Racing

Photo by: NASCAR Media

Mark Martin won 35 Cup races with Roush Racing’s Fords in NASCAR, and finished runner-up with them no less than four times. But those mid-’90s years in the Valvoline car were certainly memorable.

Alitalia & Lancia Stratos

Photo by: Sutton Images

The Bertone-designed Stratos remains one of the most iconic rally cars ever. Italian airline Alitalia’s cool font, logo and green and red trim just makes this car look even more sensational.

Budweiser & Truesports

Photo by: Dan R. Boyd

Sometimes you just don’t need a fancy colourscheme to get your point across. Bobby Rahal won back-to-back Indycar championships in 1986-’87 in a red car with beer brand Bud written on it. Straight to the point.

Camel & Peugeot

Photo by: Peugeot Sport

The Camel cigarette brand became synonymous with motorsport in the late ’80s, but its livery was perhaps most fitting with Peugeot, who took its dromedary logo into the desert on the Dakar Rally. Less fittingly, it also took the Camel up the Pikes Peak hillclimb (pictured).

Warsteiner & Arrows

Photo by: David Smith

British F1 team Arrows came out with some funky early designs, after its original effort was banned for being too similar to a rival team’s. The A1 was a bit pointy, the A2 ridiculous bulbous, but the A3 (pictured here) looked sweet in its lush golden livery of the German brewhaus Warsteiner.

STP & Richard Petty/Ford

Photo by: NASCAR Media

Quite literally The King of colour schemes. Richard Petty ruled NASCAR as a driver for decades, and his legacy lives on with a team that still runs today. Ironic that STP’s Andy Granatelli butted heads with Petty over their original deal in 1972, as one wanted red and the other blue. Turns out some compromises are worth coming to, eh?

Player’s & Forsythe Racing

Photo by: Robert Kurtycz

Jacques Villeneuve took the team to glory in the 1995 Indy 500 and CART Indy car championship, and the Player’s scheme supported young Canadian talents in Atlantic, Lights and CART – Greg Moore, Pat Carpentier and Alex Tagliani all becoming Player’s graduates. By the time veteran Paul Tracy arrived at Forsythe in 2003, cigarette logos were having to disappear, but the sponsorship remained long enough to see him earn the CART title.

Fina & BMW Motorsport

Photo by: Sutton Images

Belgian oil company Fina became BMW Motorsport’s primary oil and lubricants supplier from 1988 to ’98, backing its projects in rallying, touring cars and its 24 Hours of Le Mans efforts (unfortunately stopping its deal a year short of BMW winning the event). One of its most memorable liveries was on the McLaren F1 GTRs – including the gorgeous longtail version – in FIA GTs.

UOP & Shadow

Photo by: Bob Heathcote

American entrepreneur Don Nichols founded the Shadow team right at the end of the 1960s, subsequently entering the Can-Am series with the likes of George Follmer, Vic Elford and Jackie Oliver with backing from UOP (Universal Oil Products) – dominating it in 1974. They entered F1 together in 1973 but the association was soon tinged with tragedy, however, as Peter Revson was killed in one of its cars in 1974. The partnership ended well before Shadow took its first – and only – F1 victory with Alan Jones in Austria in 1977.

Marlboro & Mitsubishi

Photo by: Mitsubishi Motors

Mitsubishi’s World Rally Championship programme had already enjoyed much success before Marlboro joined as title sponsors in 1999. Tommi Makinen won that year’s season-opening Monte Carlo Rally with the new Evo VI version of the Lancer, and went on to score a fourth successive drivers’ title. The World Rally Car regulations introduced in 2000 subsequently hampered their form. Makinen left for Subaru in 2002, and the Marlboro sponsor dollars headed to Peugeot for 2003.

Lowe’s & Jimmie Johnson/Hendrick Motorsports

Photo by: Bob Heathcote

In 2002 Jimmie Johnson started his rookie season driving a Lowe’s-backed Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in NASCAR Cup by taking pole position for the Daytona 500. He won at his 13th attempt at Fontana in his native California. In 2016, he’s still winning Cup races (77 and counting) in the #48 – and Lowe’s remains his principle sponsor. In the meantime they have scored six titles together, making it the most successful driver/sponsor combo in the series.

Shell & Dick Johnson Racing

Photo by: Dick Johnson Racing

Iconic Sierras, bright yellow Falcons, and some of the worst acting you’ll ever see alongside Barry Sheene in TV commercials; the Dick Johnson/Shell Helix partnership delivered some real gems. It all started back in 1987, Shell sticking with Tricky Dicky until 2004. In 2015 they got the band back together, Shell signing back on with DJR Team Penske.

555/Lucky Strike & BAR

Photo by: Sutton Images

British American Racing bought the assets of the famed Tyrrell team and entered F1 in 1999 with much fanfare. Named after the British American Tobacco firm, it was founded by Craig Pollock and fielded his long-time associate Jacques Villeneuve and Ricardo Zonta for its first season – with two different liveries for each car, reflecting its 555 and Lucky Strike brands. The FIA ruled this illegal, which led to this split livery (pictured). It reverted to Lucky Strike livery for 2000, and although Pollock was ousted in 2002 the team continued until 2005, when Honda bought it outright. Its Lucky Strike colour scheme continued for one more season, to include Jenson Button’s win in Hungary ’06, before the tobacco advertising ban ended the collaboration.

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