Mercedes told UK government could change law following Kingspan deal criticism

2021 F1 season

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UK Secretary for Housing, Michael Gove, has warned Mercedes that the government may consider changing advertising laws to prohibit Kingspan logos from appearing on their cars.

In a letter to Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, Gove said there are “very real questions” whether the UK parliament would accept that the team’s partnership with building materials company Kingspan “reflects the public interest.”

Mercedes’ announcement of a partnership with building materials company Kingspan drew outrage from Grenfell United, a group of survivors and families of victims of the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster, in which a fire engulfed a residential tower block, killing 72 people.

The group described the sponsorship deal as “truly shocking”, citing evidence unearthed during a public inquiry into the tragedy that revealed Kingspan management may have misled authorities about the fire safety performance of their insulation materials that were later installed on Grenfell Tower. Gove also expressed his disapproval of the deal over social media.

Wolff responded publicly to an open letter from Grenfell United yesterday, apologising for any “additional hurt” that the team’s sponsorship deal with Kingspan had caused families and accepting an offer to meet with the group to discuss concerns.

In reply, Grenfell United said that “only meaningful action against those responsible can go towards a legacy for change for which our 72 will be remembered for, and not the horrific way in which they died.”

Following Wolff’s letter yesterday, Gove has offered a second response to Mercedes, highlighting that the British government and wider parliament are likely to consider whether to act to address the concerns of Grenfell families.

“It is important to note that, as Secretary of State, the planning controls for outdoor advertising spaces in England are a statutory responsibility that falls to me,” said Gove in a letter to Wolff.

“Currently, broadly speaking, adverts displayed on enclosed land, such as within sports stadia, or those displayed on vehicles, are excluded from direct control of the relevant authorities. My cabinet colleagues and I will keep this system under constant and close review to ensure that the advertising regime remains fit for purpose and reflects the public interest.

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“I am conscious that there are very real questions about whether Parliament would support a statutory regime that enabled a core participant in a public inquiry into how 72 people lost their lives to advertise its products publicly to millions of families across the country.”

Gove urged Mercedes to reconsider the deal with Kingspan, believing it could tarnish the reputation of both the team and its driver Lewis Hamilton in the view of the British public.

“The achievements of Mercedes and Sir Lewis Hamilton in recent years represent a British success story of which we are all proud,” Gove continued.

“I hope you will reconsider this commercial partnership. which threatens to undermine all the good work the company and sport have done.”

The shadow housing secretary – Labour MP Lisa Nandy – voiced her agreement of Gove’s stance on the issue, saying she was “heartened to see [Gove’s] swift criticism of the decision by the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 team to strike a sponsorship deal for the Grand Prix this weekend with a company, Kingspan, which is currently under scrutiny for its role in the Grenfell fire in which 72 people lost their lives.”

Nandy also Gove and the Conservative party for accepting “millions of pounds in donations from property developers responsible for flats that have been covered in the same dangerous ACM [aluminium composite material] cladding since the fire in 2017.”

Phase two of the public inquest into the 2017 disaster will resume on Monday.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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28 comments on “Mercedes told UK government could change law following Kingspan deal criticism”

  1. Mentioning the criticism being levelled against the Conservative party from accepting donations from those involved does raise the point that has many suspecting the real reason for Gove being so critical is to distract attention from his party.

    It’s been noted that Boris Johnson has accepted donations of around £50,000 from individuals involved with the disaster, and the Conservative party is under pressure to return around £2.5 million in donations, especially as one donor is a major shareholder in Arconic, the French company that produced the majority of the panels used in Grenfell and which is currently refusing to participate in the inquiry.

    1. A minor detail: Arconic is an American company according to wikipedia.

    2. Yep – it’s a really grimy situation the Mercedes have just incredibly decided to inject themselves into the middle of. There’s lying, cheating, scandal and unethical behavior everywhere so you’d have thought it would be something any team would be desperate to keep well away from….

      The have sparked an argument with the UK government at such an important time in the season is just beyond stupid.

      1. It looks like the link up between Merc and Kingspan is not a mere sponsorship deal, but probably part of some big building sustainability drive. So it’s not a simple case of we won’t take their money. Kingspan are one of a few companies that can probably deliver the services they need for whatever building projects they have. The logo on the car is probably a small part of a bigger deal. That’s my guess. Thus it’s more complicated than a pr oversight. Merc know they have to interact with these companies. It’s unavoidable.

        Motorsport is absolutely full of the shadiest stuff imaginable, I think this is just a bit of a wake up call for people to understand that a multi-billion dollar sport is a multi-billion dollar sport for a reason. It’s so far from being ‘ethical’ it’s almost laughable.

        Also, if you observe that fans outside of the UK (and some within) have taken a cursory look at the Grenfell case and decided Kingspan are not at fault and don’t deserve the bad press which I am sure they like. This is very much a UK focused PR problem. It takes quite a detailed understanding of Grenfell to really understand the distess from Grenfell United

        Whether they have calculated threats of laws being changed however, I don’t know.

    3. +1

      I think Mercedes should announce they’ve ditched this sponsorship with immediate effect.
      Gove’s mention of ‘tarnishing’ Hamilton is sickening, he had no knowledge probably about this deal. The Guardian led the story with an image of Hamilton and his name too. Why? It seems to me to be deliberately doing the very thing they claim to be protesting about, deliberately involving his name and image over an issue between corporations beyond his control or even awareness. Why wasn’t Bottas’s name and picture shown too? It follows a decades-long pattern of focusing on Hamilton as ‘fair game’ in the vicious and ethics-free UK media. At the same time those corporations (and the Conservatives) are clearly trying to exploit the issue for their own benefit, avoiding their own responsibilities and culpabilities.

      1. While I think Lewis has been targeted a tad unfairly, his literal job, when you strip it to its core, is to promote the companies that are on his car of which there are only two. His income is generated from this and he has some level of responsibility, whether you like it or not. He is the most prominent member of the race team as a 7x World Champion and highest paid. Bottas isn’t and is leaving next year. You can’t remove Hamilton from the story because Hamilton is what brings a TON of extra value to Kingspans partnership with Mercedes.

        Also you say Tories are trying to exploit the issue, while that may be true, Sadiq Khan has come out to state his objection to the deal while the inquiry is still ongoing. This will have cross-party support. Labour certainly aren’t going to object to this kind of law.

        1. Weird, I thought Hamilton’s core job was racing around tracks very fast, no irony intended.
          Sure there’s cross-party support, my point is that the Conservatives (and maybe the Blair Labour government) are closely linked to the Grenfell disaster, especially through their austerity (for the poor only) and cost-cutting policies.

      2. ‘It follows a decades-long pattern of focusing on Hamilton as ‘fair game’ in the vicious and ethics-free UK media.’….
        Yep, if it had been any other team there would be no mention of the drivers let alone a picture, the same happens with black football players quite a lot (cant remember there names but google a story of the different reporting on an incident about black and white football players buying a house for there parents). It got so bad for Prince Harry that he up’d sticks and left the country because of the mental anguish suffered by he’s wife.
        I for one haven’t bought a newspaper in nearly 15 years because there just so agenda driven…

  2. The fact that gove is screeching about the sponsorship deal speaks volumes.
    UK is in x amount of various crisis’ & here’s all this conflab about what?
    Hypocritical at best. Disingenuous in the extreme.

  3. BLS (@brightlampshade)
    4th December 2021, 13:58

    Putting aside the tragedy at the core of this argument it’s a bit risky for the UK government to be controlling who is allowed to sponsor someone based on who they are rather than what they sell.
    Weren’t Kingspan only loosely involved in Grenfell anyway?

    1. yeah, their materials were used for about 5% of the building as a replacement material for different materials that probably were in short supply at some time. It is not wholly clear that the company was involved in planning the materials to be used there, although the people from Kingspan have dealt with the issues around this pretty badly.

  4. Merits aside I find it inappropriate for government officials (people overseeing investigations, not mps) to comment on a pending investigation especially where there may be criminal liability. In the US the DOJ by policy or rule would not do this. One important reason is that the target could later claim in court that the proceeeding has been prejudiced.

    1. @DaveW They’re commenting in part because there’s a current parliamentary inquiry going on, in which the MPs are expected to contribute to gathering evidence and their contribution is required by British law to be public (up to and including a nationally-broadcast transmission of key people involved being interrogated by MPs). This is not a feature of the US legal landscape, but it is a feature of the British legal landscape.

      Companies cannot argue that a previous element of criminal proceedings prejudiced a current criminal proceeding unless the company can identify a specific fault in the previous element that contravened the law under which the previous element was required to operate.

  5. feels like the Saudi gov asked the friendly UK Conservative party to create this perfectly timed drama to take attention from all the rainbow flag human rights protest.

    Bravo to the tories, they are masters of the spin game

    1. Grenfell United started this with their inital statement. Nowt to do with the Tories. Also prominent Labour figures have come out in support

    2. @ccpbioweapon Oh right so now you’re in favour of ‘the rainbow flag human rights protest’? Make your mind up, you might end up labelled a hypocrit.

    3. @ccpbioweapon The Tories have enough problems going on (including being implicated in Grenfell) that they would want a distraction regardless of who else might wish to “persuade” them of the benefits of one.

      Of course, sometimes distractions just plain get handed to them…

      (Also, does Mercedes have any major building work in the offing? If so, this could be a trade-in-kind deal of the sort teams generally have in plentiful numbers. Not sure if the same background checks get done for trade-in-kind sponsors – who don’t typically ask for promotion beyond the logo and initial press statement – than for primarily-financial sponsors).

  6. This not Mercedes F1 Team first rodeo. Controversy is familiar to them, who owns a third of the Team? Isn’t Radcliff a pretty shady character? Title sponsor? Ineos, clean decent corporation? any one? All along Lewis has kept his nose out of it and it’s not going to change because a politician is seeing a self serving opportunity.

  7. This government is an absolute joke, there are still people who lived in Grenfell without permanent housing and there are thousands of people who live in fear as their homes use the same cladding materials.

    But Gove is working on this kind of nonsense.

    Not to mention the donations.

    1. Yeah, I find it quite bad taste for a minister in this government to berate anyone about a sponsorship deal involving one of the parties who supplied this material @davidjwest.

      And that is even before we get into the idea of a government doing something like this at all.

    2. UK government are far too busy homing financial refugees in their dingies instead of looking after their own!

      1. Another piece of propaganda from our government and complicit media, don’t fall for the BS.

  8. If the government are unhappy with Kingspan they should do something about it, hectoring a company for taking their sponsorship is just hypocritical nonsense.
    Although the involvement of Kingspan in the Grenfell disaster is incidental, they and Arconic cheated the testing regime. Their products did not meet the spec they claimed and they should have been taken to the cleaners by the government. Corporate manslaughter and required to pay for the retrofit of buildings using their product at the minimum.

  9. With all due respect to those affected by the tragic event with links to the specific company in question here, I find this type of discussions quite ridiculous. Sure, there are general bans on things like tobacco, alcohol and extremists symbols in many parts of the world. There are reasons for that, but if we are going to ban advertisement by any company that ever did anything that anyone considered bad then we might as well just ban all advertisement in general while we are at it.
    If this is indeed a problem at all I see it as self-adjusting, certainly with no need for implementations of new laws to regulate it. If a F1 team, or other organisation for that matter, chooses to use advertisement space on their equipment they will always have to consider pros and cons for doing so. In this case, if being associated with this particular brand is so unpopular with the public that their overall value drops, they will terminate the deal. Otherwise they will look bad. So what? Anyone is free to look bad if they want to, it is their own problem to evaluate if it’s worth it or not.

    1. The UK has bans on advertising for things not suitable for purpose, and Kingspan is legally suspected of providing materials unsuitable for purpose that it is still selling (albeit it is unclear if it still sells them for similar purposes or not). A complicated case (several potential lines of defence exist and it is likely multiple of these will be used), that case is with the lawyers (and the legal processes – the public inquiry of which the government’s comments form a part being one), but if found guilty then UK law can and will ban them advertising until they cease selling materials unfit for purpose (be that by changing the materials or limiting the purposes for which they are sold).

      The only reason a new law is needed is because of the limitation of enforceability that applies to advertising on private land in the UK (by the way, in the USA the enforceability limit on advertising on private land ends the moment an online method exists for viewing it – the F1TV app would likely suffice as evidence of such a method).

  10. sounds like someone is unhappy for not getting a big enough cut of the payoff money.

    Before anyone says anything about what side i’m on, I don’t know the people involved or what party they’re from, just that politicians everywhere on all sides are corrupt more often than not and very few actually care about the “public good”.and will change their mind as soon as enough money changes hands.

  11. Blaize Falconberger (@)
    4th December 2021, 18:36

    The only thing we know for sure is that Gove and his party showed zero compassion for the victims at the center of the issue in the immediate aftermath, and ever since – all statements from them and their like can therefore be labeled as posturing, and therefore irrelevant.

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