Mercedes F1 team rejects calls to drop Grenfell-linked company as sponsor
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The Mercedes Formula One motor racing team has rejected a demand from survivors of the deadly Grenfell Tower fire to cancel a sponsorship deal with a company that made insulation used in the cladding on the building.
However, Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team boss, said he would meet Grenfell United, which represents survivors and relatives of the 72 people who died in the 2017 blaze at the London block of flats, to “learn and understand better”.
Grenfell United lambasted the “truly shocking” sponsorship deal with Irish insulation giant Kingspan, and wrote to Wolff urging him to “disassociate” from the company.
Wolff, who owns one-third of the team, said: “On behalf of our team, I would sincerely like to apologise to you for the additional hurt that this announcement has caused.”
Kingspan’s Kooltherm K15 product was used in the tower’s refurbishment. The official inquiry into the disaster found evidence that company staff members joked about submitting different material for K15’s authorisation for use in tall buildings than the material it sold.
Wolff wrote that Mercedes “engaged with Kingspan in depth to understand what role their products played in what happened at Grenfell”. Kingspan said the company “played no role in the design of the cladding system used on Grenfell Tower” and that its “K15 product constituted approximately 5 per cent of the insulation purchased for use. It was used as a substitute product without Kingspan’s knowledge in a system that was not compliant with the buildings regulations.”
However, Kingspan admitted to the inquiry that there were shortcomings in its procedures relating to fire tests it carried out on insulation products. Lawyers for the bereaved families and survivors of the fire told the inquiry that Kingspan “set the precedent” for the use of flammable cladding on high-rise towers.
The inquiry has also heard that Kingspan suppressed internal test results which showed that one of its insulation products, according to internal company documents, burnt like a “raging inferno”. The inquiry is ongoing.
Michael Gove, secretary of state for housing, wrote to Wolff on Friday to express his “deep disappointment” at the partnership.
“As I have publicly acknowledged, the Grenfell bereaved, survivors and wider community have been failed in the past by both the state and the private sector,” he wrote. “They are right to feel deeply hurt and aggrieved by your decision to sign the sponsorship deal whilst the public inquiry continues.”
Under the partnership with Mercedes F1, Kingspan is to chair a working group focused on helping the team reduce its carbon footprint, and its logo will feature on the side of the nose of the car at this weekend’s Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia. Financial terms of the sponsorship deal have not been disclosed.
The criticism underlines the scrutiny of sports sponsorship. Wolff, who owns one-third of the motor racing outfit, and star driver Lewis Hamilton, who has won more races than any other competitor in the history of the sport, have previously taken a stand on social issues.
Mercedes has supported the British racer, the sport’s only black driver, in his quest to make F1 more diverse. The racing car is not only a platform for sponsorship partners but also a statement against racism and discrimination, following the decision to paint the livery black after the murder of George Floyd in the US last year by a police officer.
Hamilton has used his fame to demand “equality for all” ahead of the inaugural race in Jeddah this Sunday, where he will wear a rainbow helmet, and has aired his concerns about the kingdom’s human rights record.
The driver has previously taken to social media to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Grenfell tragedy, which triggered concerns about a building safety crisis in the UK.
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