It was in 2007 that for the first time since the Gold Leaf cigarette brand put its name on the side of a Lotus in 1968, the world's fastest moving billboards no longer raced after tobacco money.
Only Ferrari has kept its Marlboro sponsor, but even there the branding appeared on the cars only at races where local laws still allow it and according to the discretion of the team. That faded out quickly, however, and Ferrari no longer carried the advertising, although it was associated with Marbloro cigarettes in billboards in countries where that was permitted.
For the money-dependent sport, the withdrawal of tobacco sponsors had long been anticipated as likely to cause serious, if not fatal, damage. Nevertheless, the loss with the single exception of Formula 1's tobacco sponsors, due to international treaties, laws and public pressure, had on the contrary heralded a new, greener era for sponsorship.
The best tobacco deals had paid teams as much as $50 million per year.
But a new wave of sponsors and new styles of sponsorship immediately began to take advantage of the zeitgeist that followed the tobacco exodus. Car manufacturers and other wealthy supporters filled in the gap.
''While tobacco companies were generous partners of Formula 1 for nearly four decades,'' said Nick Fry, chief executive of the Honda team in 2007 and Mercedes today, ''the reality is that a large number of companies did not want to be associated with a team with tobacco logos on the car and indeed some didn't want to be associated with the sport, which was very tobacco oriented. This really has opened up a whole new door.''
For Honda, which was branded with Lucky Strike cigarettes until 2006, that new door was as significant as that first sponsorship on the Lotus. Honda's 2007 racing car was stripped of sponsor logos to display only a photographic image of the Earth.
The idea was that of Simon Fuller, whose 19 Entertainment company guided the careers of the Spice Girls and created the ''American Idol'' television program. Fuller suggested that Honda drop corporate colors and sponsor logos on the car to use it to convey a powerful, single message: that of saving the world environment.
Many of the sponsors, it turned out, had been trying to find a way to associate themselves with an environmental cause, so they agreed wholeheartedly to sacrifice their logo space on the car. The sponsors were granted the license to use the image of the car in their advertising campaigns and products.
But ultimately, the myearth campaign also gave Honda more for its money in Formula 1 as it conveys the message that Honda is creating greener cars.
Fry also noted that Formula 1 market research showed that more than 60 percent of a sponsorship's benefits come from off-car logos, such as drivers' outfits, team uniforms and merchandise. The car itself, he said, moves too quickly, and there are too many sponsor names on it for it to have as great an effect.
The team immediately increased the number of sponsors this year to 40 from 31 last season. A few years later, after the financial crisis, Honda pulled out of F1, but the team became world champion the next year - in 2009 - and was then bought by Mercedes.
Elsewhere in the sport, tobacco was replaced by new support from financial institutions.
After the Renault team lost Japan's Mild Seven tobacco brand, it looked as if the reigning world champion team had suffered an irreparable blow to its budget.
Then Renault won one of the biggest of the new financial service company sponsors: The ING Group of the Netherlands, which specializes in banking, insurance and asset management.
As with the tobacco companies of the past, ING took over the car's color scheme, and its name is the most visible logo on the car.
Isabelle Conner, the director of Formula 1 sponsorship for ING at the time, said that ING had decided to increase the company's visibility and the awareness of what the company does, through what became its first such sponsorship program.
''We looked at a number of sports including soccer, tennis, basketball, the Olympics, golf and athletics,'' said Conner. ''When we got to Formula 1, the case study was very, very powerful. Basically it's a turnkey platform, so you sign one contract and you get access to 17 Grand Prix, and access to 850 million fans worldwide, with TV viewership in 185 countries.''
Like the tobacco companies, ING also bought trackside signage, and served as the title sponsor of the ING Australian Grand Prix.
Echoing Fry on the moving billboard effect, Conner said that car logos were not enough to make the sponsor a household name.
''I think you have to go beyond what happens on the track with the two cars,'' Conner said, referring to the two cars of the Renault racing team.
Banco Santander of Spain signed a deal with the McLaren team, and it also signed a l6 million, or $11.6 million, deal as title sponsor of the British Grand Prix.
The Credit Suisse bank remains with the BMW Sauber team, and RBS, or the Royal Bank of Scotland, is in a three-year deal with the Williams team.
In the end, the financial crisis of 2008 - 2009 wiped out many of the financial institutions from the series, but others came in.