Some of the most iconic celebrations in sports include Champagne—often lots of Champagne—but no sport does it quite like Formula 1.
The global racing series is currently experiencing a popularity surge in the U.S., drawing record ratings on ESPN and spawning the hit Netflix docuseries, Drive to Survive. New fans are quickly learning that bubbly is a major part of the show. The defining moment of each race is the uproarious podium celebration, where the top three drivers uncork sparkling wine and douse each other from head to toe. Some drivers even find unique ways of drinking it (like in a shoe).
But new American enthusiasts might also be wondering: When did these lavish celebrations become such an integral part of each race—and why?
Image Courtesy of Gurney Champagne / Rainer Schlegelmilch
The Beginning of Champagne in Formula 1
The tradition of Champagne at Formula 1 races dates all the way back to 1950 when Argentinian driver Juan Manuel Fangio received a large bottle of Moët & Chandon after winning the French Grand Prix. The practice soon became standard practice at all races.
“Today, we see other sports celebrating with bubbles, but it all started back then with Formula 1,” says Matteo Lunelli, the CEO of Italian wine brand Ferrari Trento, the sport’s current sponsor (which, despite its name, has no affiliation with the Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 team). “That’s why it has remained such an iconic tradition in our sport and a big part of the Formula 1 show.”
The act of spraying Champagne, though, began at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, the legendary French endurance race, when Swiss driver Jo Siffert accidentally popped the cork on his bottle, spraying a few unsuspecting spectators. The following year, American racer Dan Gurney, who had just won the race for Ford, decided to take Siffert’s move one step further: He shook up his bottle of Moët & Chandon and showered everyone around him, for better or worse.
“He sprayed it all over the fans, the photographers and all over their lenses. All over everything,” recalls Phil Henny, a Swiss mechanic who worked on Gurney’s team at Le Mans that year, in a recent interview with Wine Enthusiast.
“It was fun in the moment, but, unbelievably, he even sprayed Madame Ford,” Henny adds, referring to the wife of Gurney’s team owner, Henry Ford II. “She was dressed so nicely but now was covered in Champagne. Henry Ford did not look happy.”
Scoring the Sponsorship
Soon, the fun—and messy—tradition caught on. Champagne showers became a staple in motorsports, eventually becoming common practice in most major sports across the globe. In America, it’s most prominently seen during baseball and basketball playoff celebrations, but international sports including tennis, golf, polo and soccer also frequently incorporate it.
In Formula 1, the practice quickly evolved into the spectacle we see today, and official sponsorship opportunities emerged, with wine brands including Moët & Chandon, G.H. Mumm, and Carbon all sponsoring podium celebrations at various times since 1966.
According to Ishveen Jolly, the founder and CEO of OpenSponsorship, a company that brokers deals between brands and athletes, the Formula 1 sponsorship, in particular, is a coveted one for wineries.