Mercedes’ Kingspan sponsorship criticised by Grenfell fire survivors and minister

2021 F1 season

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Mercedes’ new sponsorship deal with Irish building materials company Kingspan has been condemned by a group of survivors and families of victims of the Grenfell Tower catastrophe.

Kingspan’s logos have been added to the W12 as part of the partnership between it and Mercedes, which was announced yesterday. The company will be also be involved in a “sustainability working group” within the Mercedes team.

However news of the deal prompted an angry response from community group Grenfell United.

A fire engulfed the Grenfell Tower high-rise residential building in west London in June 2017, claiming the lives of 72 residents in one of the deadliest domestic fire disasters in British history.

A public inquest into the catastrophe determined that some of the insulation materials installed around the tower, including a Kingspan product, combusted in the blaze and may have contributed to its severity. Phase two of the public inquest into the disaster will resume next week.

The Grenfell United group representing bereaved families and survivors of the fire have strongly criticised Kingspan and claimed the company misrepresented the fire safety qualities of their products.

In an open letter to Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, Grenfell United described the announcement of the team’s sponsorship deal with Kingspan as “truly shocking”.

“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,” the letter states.

A Mercedes spokesperson said: “Our partner Kingspan has supported, and continues to support, the vitally important work of the Inquiry to determine what went wrong and why in the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

“Our new partnership announced this week is centred on sustainability, and will support us in achieving our targets in this area.”

British Secretary of State for Housing, Michael Gove, followed Grenfell United in criticising Mercedes in a statement posted on social media.

“Deeply disappointed that Mercedes AMG F1 are accepting sponsorship from cladding firm Kingspan while the Grenfell Inquiry is ongoing,” said the cabinet minister. “I will be writing to Mercedes to ask them to reconsider. The Grenfell community deserves better.”

Kingspan have been approached for comment. The company previously denied attempting to mislead about the fire safety performance of their materials, maintaining that their product was used “as a substitute product without Kingspan’s knowledge in a system that was not compliant with the building’s regulations” and that it amounted to 5% of the total insulation materials used on the tower.

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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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33 comments on “Mercedes’ Kingspan sponsorship criticised by Grenfell fire survivors and minister”

  1. Barry Bens (@barryfromdownunder)
    2nd December 2021, 21:55

    The other side of the coin of sponsorships: Teams will always claim it’s a great company, but they only really care about how big the bag of money is that they get at the end of the month. This is a whole new low for Mercedes in F1, but another on the list of more shady companies finding their way to the grid. But at least Rich Energy never killed anyone…

    1. Don’t think they went for money. They didn’t do their research well enough and now it backfired.

    2. Its not surprising. F1 teams exist to compete and F1 is an expensive sport. Teams will take the money from whoever offers. If ISIS offered, I’m sure they would find a team willing to put a few stickers in the car for a few million per season!
      We all know cigarettes are poison, yet a couple of teams in the grid still take tobacco money, so there…

      1. Very true, Grenfell was a human disaster, but tobacco companies have killed millions over the years

    3. Good ol Bazza! Never disappoints!
      You do know that Kingspan material made up 5% of the grenfell cladding and insulation? And you do know that the Kingspan material was used off contract and off prescribed label usage, without their knowledge?
      Merc should probably have stayed away from this deal while the inquest is still ongoing but you feign fury at things you nothing of Bazza.

      1. So we can say they were only responsible for for 5% of the 72 deaths, say one family of three?
        What did those emails from a Kingspan’s technical manager say after he was questioned by potential customers about the fire safety of the boards, oh I remember “they can go f#ck themselves”.
        The public inquiry into the disaster has heard that prior to Grenfell, Kingspan changed the composition of its plastic foam boards, and tests showed that they burned “like a raging inferno”
        The public inquiry heard that Kingspan executives also dismissed customers’ concerns about the boards’ fire safety, with a manager in one case saying: “[They] are getting me confused with someone who gives a dam [sic].”
        All sounds great PR for Mercedes.

    4. “But at least Rich Energy never killed anyone…“ that we know of 😉

  2. I think the people lashing out at Mercedes are wrong on this. Whilst what happened was a terrible event for all involved, the sole blame doesn’t like at kingspans door, the enquiry is ongoing. This insulation is hard to ignite and I would guess it was more to do with the installation rather than the material, just my construction experienced opinion.
    But to condemn Mercedes for this is just bizzare, millions of products fail daily and hurt or kill people, cars for one but we all still drive and don’t boycott them because of one freak event.
    And as for Michael give wading in, in his position he should know that in order for homes to be upto regs or code as the Americans say, one of the key factors in achieving and passing thermal tests is kingspan or similar products, without it homes do not get built.
    Mercedes have done nothing wrong here, simply taking a deal from a well known company with a good product which is used daily throughout thousands of projects with no problem at all, one freak accident doesn’t mean they are a murderous company or that Mercedes don’t care about the families and will assist in the enquiry. If you think otherwise maybe you guys should pull your walls apart and get it out of your house if you feel that strongly.

    1. It’s pointless to defend Kingspan for a myriad of reasons. Firstly, they knew the cladding was highly flammable and did not meet the fire safety regulations, but instead decided to hide this fact and advertised the products as otherwise. Also, when the dangers were bought up by consultants in 2008 the director told them “to go f**k themselves”. They clearly knew of the dangers and did not care. Not to mention that this negligence is believed to be caused by racial prejudices due to knowing the area would be occupied by working-class people of color. Whether that is an unfortunate coincidence or a cause for the negligence no one will ever know, by the fact that whether this plays a role is being investigated shows it’s not as clear cut as you think, otherwise, it would be quickly dismissed. It is not a freak accident when they are aware of the dangers of their product and they deliberately hide those risks for profits. Kingspan was a highly negligent company, and due to chasing profits, not due to ignorance which is far more dangerous, and this caused a major loss of life. I can’t say whether you would consider that murderous, but many do and they do have some decent arguments to support that.

      Also, a product like that is not a good product (and many have removed it from their houses since), and rather extremely dangerous, it also brings into question how safe their other products are and if they actually passed the regulations. Nor is this product believed to be a good product and they have had major damage to reputation as a result which they are trying to repair. That’s also not to mention the countless controversies since, such as the smear campaigns against competitors to damage their reputations even more despite them not doing as much, as well as their treatment towards survivors since and dragging out what should’ve been a quicker lawsuit running the victims out of money.

      Maybe have some sensitivity to the 70+ lives lost and try to actually understand the situation beyond a simple, “freak accident from nowhere undeservedly tarnishes great companies reputation” because that is very far from what happened. If I was to have a guess, you actually have little to no idea about what happened and are just a Mercedes fanboy who is defending the F1 team and as a result Kingspan. Sure, you might have an argument that Mercedes shouldn’t be criticised for this deal, but one cannot defend Kingspan for what has happened. As for the deal, it is potentially a form of sports washing, where Kingspan is using sponsorship deals to repair their reputation and hide the past, something Mercedes is assisting in (knowingly or not doesn’t matter, if they didn’t know they should’ve done more research). If that is the case, Mercedes has a moral obligation to cancel the deal, and that is what some people are arguing for. The alternative argument is to argue that it isn’t sports washing and Kingspan is using this opportunity to market to new audiences and gain some exposure. Given recent events (especially with their smear campaign), I doubt it is because of the latter.

      But no, seems like a great product and company you are defending here and definitely just one freak accident.

    2. The Grenfell fire was certainly a combination of failings on many levels. But to say the insulation is hard to ignite is completely false.

      The products sold by companies such as Kingspan were highly flammable and should never have been allowed onto the market in any country. The performance and compliance of these products was completely mis-represented by manufacturers and suppliers who pushed them aggressively to grow significant value in a very short period of time.

      You won’t find a composite aluminum product of any kind on the market in Australia nowadays (and many other countries). There’s a very good reason for that.

      1. The lingspan material was used without contracts, was used for purposes they were not designed for and were used without Kingspans knowledge. You cannot blame Dulux if a drop a can of paint on my cat and kill it!

  3. It has been widely claimed that the fire and lives lost where due to systemic racism and an under valuing of people of colour in the borough, including by some of the victims lawyers. Mercedes accepting money from the proffitieeers of this is not a good look. I’m surprised hamilton hasn’t printed a t-shirt, or does he just protest things that dont put money in his pocket?

    1. Kingspan is used in homes and buildings in predominantly white leafy suburbs, such as Surrey as well as the rich, poor, black, white, asian, upper class, lower class rest of the UK.
      I don’t think fire knows which race you are.

      1. A quick search on Google will show that this is widely held view. Surely denying this makes you a racist in these days of anti racism!

        1. Ermmm no. The fire and lives lost was due to the FIRE. If a white retirement building was engulfed and I said the same the thing does that make me a racist? Grow up.

    2. He will just claim he did not know anyway.

    3. Jack (@jackisthestig)
      3rd December 2021, 5:19

      Where I struggle with that argument is that millions were spent installing what turned out to be such dangerous cladding in the first place. If the residents were so undervalued surely they wouldn’t have bothered and the subsequent fire wouldn’t have engulfed the building.

      1. The cladding was a cheap option that made an old, dangerous tower block in an expensive are looking nicer from the outside. It would have cost considerably more to use non-flammable cladding burn it wouldn’t have looked nicer so they didn’t do it.

        Residents had campaigned for years about the block being dangerous but they spent money on its external appearance instead…

        Ultimately, it’s a really bad look for Mercedes to be promoting this company and in a sporting sense, it’ll cause a distraction in the build up to the final 2 races. It’s unfair on Lewis who will have to field lots of questions this weekend about this at a time when he should be focussed in the Championship. He’ll shut the questions down by saying “he doesn’t get involved with the commercial deals the team signs” and he’ll be right but that won’t stop questions like “are you happy wearing their logo” etc….

        1. Jay (@slightlycrusty)
          3rd December 2021, 7:27

          @petebaldwin Agreed, what an appalling slip-up. It’s entirely possible that the people in marketing weren’t aware of the connection to Grenfell, but Mercedes should rectify this issue ASAP.

        2. I agree that it doesn’t look great on Mercedes, regardless of whether they knew or not. Thing is, your argument about the use of cheaper material makes sense, but then why is that on Kingspan? They make the product, but it was the building owners choice to use it, and the government’s choice not to enforce a stricter code to avoid the use of cheap combustable materials? If the argument is that Kingspan misrepresented the performance of their material, then that nullifies the argument that the developer was looking for a cheap solution to appearance

          1. Yeah I wouldn’t say the full blame is on Kingspan at all but that doesn’t matter in terms of linking Mercedes to promoting a company partly responsible for Grenfell. It’s just a bad call and Mercedes should back away and issue a “lessons learned” press release.

  4. I vaguely remember that in the news. It’s so sad that 4 years later they’re still fighting for compensation and taking any opportunity to make media releases against the companies involved, and their wholly unrelated business partners.

    It reeks of desperation, the exact opposite of the dignity the survivors should be afforded. Shame on the UK as a whole for not having this well sorted by now.

    1. Jay (@slightlycrusty)
      3rd December 2021, 7:37

      @skipgamer and it’s not just Grenfell, leaseholders in flats over 18 storeys are being saddled with huge debts, while Michael Gove twiddles his thumbs, deaf to the outcry – but the first opportunity of a bit of self-promotion and he’s there like a rat up a drainpipe.

      1. Completely agree – given the sleaze, corruption, lying, cheating and rule breaking that the Conservative government have been caught out with recently, it is completely disingenuous of Gove to start making a fuss out of this…. but then again, one should not be surprised

        Horrible little man

  5. Why isn’t everyone outraged??!!! Will someone think of the children???

    Seriously though , if we want to go down this route, you can condemn just about anything. But hey, Mercedes and other teams and their employees rightly or wrongly so (dont care), have been voicing out various social issues that afflict various communities the world over, hence you open yourself up to becoming targets for this type of criticism…part and parcel of the game.

    In short: Nothing to see here folks.

  6. As an architect who has a pretty good knowledge of Kingspan products and the combustible cladding crisis that has engulfed the world (forgive the pun), I can completely understand the backlash against this sponsorship and thought exactly the same myself.

    The actions of many of these companies was highly questionable at best, both prior to the many well-documented fire events and in the years following trying to cover up many aspects of the products in question. Kingspan were undoubtedly amongst the worst.

    Either Mercedes haven’t undertaken the due diligence they should have or it is simply another example of F1 being associated with profits first, explain later.

    1. Yeah, this is pretty bad. To give you an idea of how bent Kingspan is, consider these nuggets from Wikipedia:

      Kingspan director Philip Heath had said, in 2008, that consultants who raised concerns about the combustibility of its product could “go f*ck themselves”, and that they were “getting me confused with someone who gives a damn”

      Kingspan technical staff had acknowledged internally that Kingspan was selling its Kooltherm K15 foam insulation product as less flammable than it really was.

      … after the Grenfell fire, Kingspan had invested in a smear campaign against rival companies’ products. The campaign involved secretly using non-standard test rigs to artificially create the appearance that non-flammable rival products might in fact be flammable.

      Mercedes needs to cancel this deal. They’re the most successful team in F1, by far. They’ll have to trouble finding a replacement sponsor.

      1. Ack – should be “no trouble finding a replacement …”

    2. They should have at least waited until the summer where they could deal with the backlash outside of a title fight – doing so now just seems like a terrible decision that cause a huge distraction at a time where they need to focus.

  7. Priorities.

  8. What about Puma’s labor practices and factory conditions in China? Monster Energy’s alleged sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits? Ineos releasing caustic soda into the Manchester Ship Canal? Petronas war crimes allegations in Sudan? And that is just for some of Mercedes other sponsors/partners. The reality is, Kingspan is no better or worse than most of them.

  9. Money makes the world go round.
    Hypocrisy in regards to sponsorship is not uncommon in f1.

  10. There is a nice and honorable way out for all Merc staff & drivers

    It is called sepukku

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