The Mercedes Formula One team and a firm that made combustible insulation used on Grenfell Tower have ended their sponsorship deal after outrage from bereaved friends and relatives, the survivors and the UK government.
The team, whose main driver is the current champion, Lewis Hamilton, confirmed the short-lived partnership with Kingspan was terminated after just one race in which the logo of the firm that made some of the foam boards used on the tower was emblazoned on the nose cone of cars driven by Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
When the deal was announced before last week’s grand prix in Saudi Arabia, survivors called on the team’s boss, Toto Wolff, to sever the relationship, describing it as “sportswashing sins”. It was called “disgusting” by Nabil Choucair, who lost six members of his family in the fire.
The team said on Tuesday that the deal had been intended to promote sustainability, but that: “Both parties have … concluded that it is not appropriate for the partnership to move forward at this current point in time, notwithstanding its intended positive impact, and we have therefore agreed that it will be discontinued with immediate effect.”
Kingspan’s actions have been heavily scrutinised by the public inquiry into the disaster, which has already found its materials “contributed to the rate and extent of vertical flame spread”.
Grenfell United, which represents bereaved people and survivors had told Wolff: “Kingspan played a central role in inflicting the pain and suffering that we feel today, and there must be a degree of public censure for Kingspan’s recklessness and carelessness for human life.”
Mercedes was also told by Michael Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, that it could face an advertising ban if it promoted a firm that is a core participant in the public inquiry into the June 2017 disaster that killed 72 people.
Gove told Wolff in a letter that he felt “deep disappointment” at the deal. He said the UK government had already told the inquiry that it understood Kingspan employees knew their products were more combustible than they were advertising them to be. Gove noted that one employee admitted to the inquiry he had been involved in a “deliberate and calculated deceit by Kingspan”.
On Friday, Wolff apologised to the survivors and bereaved people for the hurt caused by the new partnership, but stopped short of announcing the deal would be abandoned. He accepted an offer to meet Grenfell United representatives “as soon as we can … for me to learn and understand better”.
Grenfell United welcomed the scrapping of the deal. “We’re pleased to hear this morning’s news that Mercedes have decided to terminate their sponsorship deal with Kingspan with immediate effect,” a spokesperson said. “We met Toto Wolff and shared the facts from the Grenfell inquiry, and Mercedes came to their own conclusion. Mercedes have … shown that people can be put before profit.”
Hamilton, who has previously spoken out in solidarity with the Grenfell community, said before his win in Saudi Arabia on Sunday: “It was news to me when I heard the things that have happened this week. Unfortunately my name is associated with it because it has been on my car, but whether that remains the same, we will see.”
He added: “Toto is sorting it.”
Kingspan said in a statement: “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.”
It emphasised that it was not involved in making the cladding that was the principal cause of flames spreading, and that its materials made up approximately 5% of the insulation and were used without its knowledge.