Mercedes and Kingspan shelve Formula 1 sponsorship

Racing team came under attack from Grenfell Tower survivors and UK politicians over deal

Kingspan branding on the nose of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes   on the grid before the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah. Photograph:  Lars Baron/Getty Images

Kingspan branding on the nose of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes on the grid before the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah. Photograph: Lars Baron/Getty Images

 

Formula 1 team Mercedes and Irish insulation group Kingspan have agreed to end a major sponsorship deal just a week after it was announced, following an outcry from survivors of London’s Grenfell Tower fire.

Both sides have agreed to step back from the deal ahead of this week’s Formula 1 season finale in Abu Dhabi where Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton has a chance to retain his title.

The Cavan company’s logo appeared on the Mercedes cars of drivers Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas for the first time last week at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, which Hamilton won, with Bottas finishing third.

The high profile sponsorship, announced just a week ago, was pitched as part of Mercedes F1’s sustainability programme. It has been reported as being worth £4 million (€4.7 million) a year to the Mercedes AMG Petronas team.

Some Kingspan insulation material was used on the refurbishment of the Grenfell Tower in London before a fire in June 2017 that killed 72 people. The company has always insisted that its products were used without its knowledge or advice. An inquiry into the blaze is ongoing.

Backlash

Following a backlash from both Grenfell survivors and UK politicians, the two sides have accepted that the timing of the sponsorship arrangement is not sustainable, especially with the Grenfell inquiry ongoing.

“We are deeply aware of the sensitivities raised in recent days, and so we have jointly agreed that it’s not appropriate to move forward at the current point in time,” Kingspan said in a statement on Wednesday.

The company said it had been approached by Mercedes AMG Petronas to chair its new sustainability working group. “We saw a unique opportunity to bring the two together in a way that would support a sport we love, while bringing sustainability to a world stage,” Kingspan said in its statement.

Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, apologised to Grenfell survivors and bereaved relatives last Friday, ahead of the race in Jeddah, and thanked the campaign group Grenfell United for an offer to meet after its condemnation of the deal with Kingspan.

British housing secretary, Michael Gove, also attacked the deal , warning last week that the UK government could amend advertising rules for racing cars if Mercedes did not pull the partnership with Kingspan.

He said he was “deeply disappointed” the team was accepting sponsorship from Kingspan while an inquiry was ongoing.

Fire safety

Kingspan has been criticised at the inquiry over a decision to rely on an older fire safety test pass to sell the K15 foam board insulation for use on buildings in the UK even after new tests, conducted after the company had changed the composition of its product, had shown they burned “like a raging inferno” in the words of evidence given to the inquiry.

The Cavan-based multinational reiterated in its statement that it had no role in the refurbishment of the Grenfell Tower. It said it fully supported the work of the inquiry, in which its UK insulation business is a core participant.

It noted that it did not make the exterior cladding used on the tower which has been held to be the main reason for the rapid spread of the deadly fire and that its K15 insulation board “was misused in this unsafe and non-compliant system”.

The company stressed that it did not supply or recommend K15 to Grenfell Tower. The insulation material, which Kingspan says comprised about 5 per cent of the facade system’s insulation layer, was, it says, “substituted without our knowledge”.

It said that it had carried out new fire tests “which support the previous fire safety claims of the three historical K15 large-scale system tests which came into question during the Inquiry process”.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the wholly unacceptable historical conduct and emails which emerged throughout the course of the [Grenfell] inquiry discovery process,” the Kingspan statement said. “We have sincerely apologised for these actions by a small group of employees at our Kingspan Insulation UK business.” – additional reporting Guardian