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Yamaha and Rossi Smokeless in 2005

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  • Yamaha and Rossi Smokeless in 2005

    Altadis currently sponsors the full factory Yamaha team of Valentino Rossi and Carlos Checa and also the Tech 3 “satellite” team of Marco Melandri and Norifumi Abe. With the signing of Rossi, Altadis was delighted, in spite of the uncomfortable fact that the wildly popular young Italian is publicly anti-tobacco. When Camel was on the verge of replacing Repsol Honda as the prime sponsor for the HRC team, Rossi made it known that he would use the space on his leathers that he retained rights to for the purpose of carrying anti-tobacco slogans and that he would be outspoken in his opposition to tobacco advertising. That spooked Camel and sent them into the arms of the Pons Honda team whose rider, Max Biaggi, a physical fitness extremist and staunch non-smoker, has carried tobacco signage during most of his GP career, and, like most professional riders, rides the bike in the colors it carries with no apparent qualms.

    I am not certain that Yamaha’s decision to forego Gauloises sponsorship is really driven exclusively, or even partially, by Rossi, but you can be sure that Valentino will not break a lance in defense of tobacco sponsorship. He has been on an anti-smoking crusade from his 125cc days and once appeared on the podium wearing the colors of a tobacco mock-sponsor as a form of humorous protest. This was the kid who said he would never ride for a tobacco sponsor…he was a teenager then riding for Aprilia and soon to sign for Nastro Azzuro beer.

    Rossi’s outspoken opposition to tobacco sponsorship is widely believed in the GP paddock to have dissuaded both Mild Seven and Camel from association (via Honda HRC) with motorcycle racing’s most charismatic and most talented athlete. (Rossi did ride and win the Suzuka 8 Hours on a Cabin-Japanese tobacco brand-Honda, but the tobacco sponsorship was a “bad surprise” that the kid says he was unaware of when he signed an HRC 500 contract that obliged him to ride the works Honda in the Suzuka endurance race.)

    So, given Rossi’s convictions, why did he accept becoming poster boy for Gauloises? Elementary, my dear Watson: because it was the only way out of the clutches of mother Honda and into the upstart Yamaha team. Yamaha already had a deal signed with Altadis for 2004 and it was as tight as the French lawyers could make it. Sources reveal that Altadis now feel they were tricked into signing a one-year deal. Yamaha gave them strong options for 2005, virtually making it impossible for their place to be usurped by another commercial sponsor, but leaving it possible for Yamaha to simply opt to reserve naming-rights and the lion’s share of on-bike signage for themselves, something no one, in or out of Altadis, would have guessed.

    Altadis now wonder if this was the Yamaha-Rossi plan from the beginning.

    Altidas upset a few people in Yamaha by demanding that the Yamaha “A team” of Rossi and Spain’s Carlos Checa be split down the middle of the garage with Rossi running in the blue of French Gauloises and Checa (the reason Fortuna is in MotoGP in the first place) running in the red of Spanish Fortuna. That meant that the Tech 3 team of Marco Melandri and “Norick” Abe was also running mixed colors. (This idea of having the same team sponsored by two brands of tobacco exposed Yamaha to criticism by anti-tobacco legislators and lobbyists in the European Parliament. Rossi’s team, with Checa, is listed as Gauloises Fortuna Yamaha, while the Melandri-Abe team is listed as Fortuna Gauloises Yamaha. That’s a lot of smoke to be coming out of two garages.)

    When the season started with Rossi on the Gauloises-branded Yamaha winning the BMW car for setting quickest time in the Barcelona IRTA tests and then winning in Welkom, the French tooted their horn of plenty...and this in spite of the fact that the government of the Republic of South Africa refused steadfastly to acquiesce to Dorna’s requests/demands to grant an exception and allow the tobacco-sponsored machines to show their logos in Welkom.

    The number of countries where tobacco sponsorship is allowed on televised motorsport is decreasing and new, draconian measures are in the works which could even make it a “crime” for a rider to carry tobacco advertising in a country where it is allowed if images of that race are broadcast in the rider’s home county.

    At present the noose is tightening on tobacco advertisers in Europe, with the exception of the Iberian Peninsula, where four very successful Grands Prix are held, along with Holland and the Czech Republic.

    In Spain, where Rossi was fourth, the lead Gauloises machine finally carried full branding. But in France, where Rossi was fourth again, severe French anti-tobacco laws kept the Gauloises name and logos under cover.

    It was at the French GP, however, that news first surfaced of Yamaha’s intention to run Rossi on an un-sponsored machine in 2005, carrying only the Yamaha tuning forks logo on a light golden fairing, golden because 2005 is the 50th anniversary year of Yamaha. (There might be a Gauloises logo low on the keel.)

    Altadis first thought this was just a bargaining tactic by Yamaha to sweeten the renewal. After all, the French-Spanish company sponsors both Yamaha teams and is budgeted to spend a combined 54 million dollars over the 2004-2005 seasons. (Yamaha described the 54 million bucks as a “tip” compared to their real corporate R & D costs.)

    As explained earlier, Altadis, when they did their contract with Yamaha for 2004 and with strong options for 2005, took every precaution to prevent Yamaha from having any loophole that would allow any other commercial sponsor to take their place next year. Apparently they never dreamed that Yamaha would choose to forego any form of title sponsorship and simply run Rossi and his bike in institutional Yamaha markings.

    How much of this is really Yamaha’s stated purpose of celebrating their 50th anniversary season by showing their true colors and how much of it comes from Yamaha’s awareness that tobacco advertising significantly limits appeal of their winning combination of Rossi on the M1? Or was all of this part of an agreement with Rossi who grudgingly accepted tobacco sponsorship in 2004, but not for 2005?

    How much of Yamaha’s rigid refusal to accommodate Gauloises in 2005 was caused by Altadis’s aggressive maximization of their rights? Unless you actually get a pit lane pass and can get close to Rossi’s bike, it is hard to see the Yamaha logo on the Gauloises blue machine. A quick look at the other tobacco-sponsored bikes in MotoGP makes it clear that only Ducati have their brand name displayed high on the fairing. When there is a rider on board covering the tank logos with his forearms the only place you will read the words “Honda,” “Yamaha,” or “Aprilia” is down on the keel of the fairing where product sponsors are displayed.

    Honda has done so much winning over the last decade that their presence is understood and assumed, but Yamaha hasn’t won a title or even been a consistent race winner since 1992 and they have a corporate need…an urgency really, to make the most of these brief glory years with Rossi. When he is gone they want the Rossi-Yamaha graphic legacy to highlight the motorcycle and not the huge Gauloises lettering down both sides of the blue fairing and emblazoned under the yellow trademark number 46 of their golden boy savior.

    It seems that as the clock ticks away the final minutes of tobacco sponsorship, the tobacco companies are more jealous of every inch of signage. Insiders say that Yamaha were very angry with Marlboro for dropping them to cast their lot with the quixotic Team Roberts Modenas project in 1997. They ran their bikes un-sponsored in 1998 and only picked up Fortuna backing when Carlos Checa left Sito Pons’ Honda team and brought over the Spanish brand of Altadis in 1999.

    There was a time when Japanese factories identified very closely with their sponsors. Soichiro Honda himself, when he visited the Spanish GP at Jarama in 1985, insisted on wearing a full Rothmans Honda gear even though it would have been perfectly acceptable for the patriarch of the Japanese motorcycle industry to dress exclusively in Honda corporate colors.

    After Rothmans dumped Honda in 1993, the world leader raced in Honda red and won the 1994 500cc title with Mick Doohan on an un-sponsored machine. When Repsol came on board it was more in support of Alex Criville than out of any ties to Honda, and the long-standing relationship with Repsol (now Repsol-YPF combining Spanish Repsol and their South American acquisition YPF), though now it its tenth year, has never seemed as intimate as the old Rothman-Honda ten year union.

    Perhaps that is because the true costs of modern racing are much greater now than in the early days of corporate sponsorship. Honda make it clear to Repsol that their sponsorship is a drop in the bucket compared to the true costs of HRC, but Yamaha have gone farther with a tactic that seems designed to drive Altadis from their teams as they seek to promote their own brand of motorcycle. Yamaha say the don’t need a 54 million dollar tip…and, remember, there is no tipping in Japan.

    Few in MotoGP (journalists, team owners, rights holders or federation officials) feel free to admit it, but tobacco advertising may be doomed even in the short term in spite of exceptions and exemptions in some European countries like Spain, Portugal, Holland and the Czech Republic.

  • #2
    Spike, if you are going to copy bulk-shit verbatim dont bother... just put a link to the original text.
    If you can... you MUST!


    • #3
      .... or at least credit the origional Author so we know where it came from.

      So on the eight day, after wasting time faffing about with unimportant guff like heaven & earth & the waters & sky & creatures [& having a wee kip] & man.... God created PSB (GenesiSX-R1000)


      • #4

        Interesting read though Spike. Thanks for the effort.


        • #5
          Does that mean i cant wear my Marlboro hat?
          I am the old bloke on the black and yellow cbr1krr