Formula One may be one of the most ostentatious sports in the world.
We mean that in a good way, by the way. While the sport certainly captures the wider public’s attention, there’s no hiding the fact that money plays a huge role. We’re not just talking about the huge investments into the cars that get made either. The locations of race tracks and the people who associate themselves with the top levels of the sport have a certain stature that you don’t see in many other sports.
Then we come to the wines.
A few years back, we wrote about the history that Champagne has with Formula One. With this article, we’re going to take a look at a few interesting developments that changed – however briefly – the relationship between wine and this most adrenaline-pumping of sports.
The Great Champagne Crisis
Okay, so calling it a crisis may be a little overblown.
However, a lot changed in the years following our initial look at wine in Formula One.
As anybody who follows the sport already knows, the spraying of Champagne on the winner’s podium is perhaps one of the most longstanding traditions in the sport. It’s also where the sport gets its reputation as being a rich person’s game.
After all, who would want to waste a good bottle of Champagne?
Still, the history of using Champagne stretches back farther than you may think. We covered that in a previous blog post.
If you’ve taken a look at that post, you’ll notice the mention of the Mumm brand of Champagnes. For many years, this was the official Champagne brand of Formula One. Anybody who visited their website at the time would see this association plastered all over the place.
Then 2016 came long and changed everything.
What Was the Big Change?
Unsurprisingly, it all came down to money.
Mumm had spent many years paying to associate their brand of Champagne’s with the sport. It was their bottles that god sprayed on the podium and it’s likely that Formula One brought much more attention to the brand than they would have received otherwise.
However, in 2016 it came time for them to renegotiate their contract with Formula One. They offered $5.5 million per year to secure the rights to having their Champagne’s used as they always had been.
But Formula One bosses decided that this rather large sum was no longer enough. In particular, Bernie Ecclestone declared that the sum of money was insufficient given the benefits that the association provided.
Mumm decided against making a higher offer, which left Formula One bosses in a bit of a dilemma. With their main Champagne provider gone, they had no time to negotiate a new contract with another provider.
Mumm quickly moved on to become a sponsor of Formula E. But Formula One found itself left without a Champagne provider.
Enter Chandon. The winemaker had already secured its sponsorship of the McClaren racing team before making the offer to provide Champagne for the winner’s podium.
But there was a bit of a wrinkle. The Champagne that Chandon provided wasn’t actually a Champagne at all. Instead, it was a sparkling white wine made using the Chardonnay grape.
This probably doesn’t seem like too big of a deal to most people. But you have to remember that Champagne’s association with the sport stretched back to 1950. That’s when the winner of the French Grand Prix received a bottle of Champagne for their exploits. The practice continued on for decades, with the spraying of Champagne becoming a fixture in the 1970s.
Replacing it with another variety of sparkling white wine had a surprisingly negative effect on the sport. It seems like the quality of the wine itself wasn’t the issue. For all anybody knew, it could have been the greatest wine that they’d have ever tasted.
Instead, it was the breaking with a decades-old tradition that led to the media scrutiny surrounding the loss of Champagne on the winner’s podium. For over a year, the cries of “Champagne” that has echoed from the podium were silenced. After all, you can’t call a sparkling white a Champagne if it doesn’t come from the correct region.
The cry of “Celebration” replaced the cry of “Champagne”. Thankfully, this wasn’t too unfamiliar as the same cry is used in Bahrain and other Formula One locations where alcohol is prohibited. Still, the change didn’t sit well with a lot of fans of the sport.
Despite the break with tradition, Formula One bosses held firm and stuck with the sparkling stuff for a little while. Chandon continued supplying it, though it later became clear that this was really a stopgap until 2017, when a new twist to the tale emerged.
Chandon Strikes Again…But This Time it Brings Champagne
Formula One bosses finally relented and decided to bring Champagne back to the podium after a year of using Chandon’s sparkling white wine.
Their distributor or choice?
The two companies finally settled on an agreement that would see Chandon provide vintage Champagnes worth about $3,000 per bottle to the sport. Better yet, the company had some changes in mind. The bottles that they’ve provided since signing the agreement have been made using the same carbon fibre that goes into the vehicles that the drivers use. The bottles also have a colouring that’s inspired by the position that the recipient achieves. Naturally, the winner gets the gold bottle, with second getting silver and third getting bronze.
The Final Word
Formula One’s long association with Champagne looks set to continue for many more years, despite the loss of the agreement with Mumm creating a bit of a road bump.
Chandon stepped in with a temporary solution that served as a stopgap that also helped them to claim the Champagne contract later on.
Fans are just happy that the traditions that started all of the way back in the 1950s have been returned to the sport. It will be interesting to see how long the new relationship lasts.