A few weeks ago, Edd Straw wrote a wonderful piece over on Autosport.com about lacklustre Formula 1 liveries. At the start of every year, we hope that such fears and pessimism will be misplaced. At the start of every year, we hope that the Formula 1 teams, whose offices are filled with visionary designers and excessively paid graphic designers, will create a colour scheme that marks them out from the fold. Something that will make them distinctive. And every year we’re disappointed.
But perhaps never have I been more disappointed than this year.
The sheer lack of imagination from Formula 1’s artistic brain trusts is as bewildering as it is frustrating. With a blank canvas and the ability to go anywhere most have gone down the most unimaginative paths. Others have strayed from the norm, but in such a sterile fashion as to have made the majority of us wish they’d just left well alone.
I have no issue with liveries staying the same year on year. Red Bull has a clear brand and their car livery evolution over the years has stayed true to that. One cannot expect their livery this year to be much different to that of 2014, and that’s no bad thing. It is recognisable, bold and colourful. It has remained relatively unchanged for so long because it works. The same, of course, is true of Ferrari.
Ferrari’s red stems from the old school, when racing cars were painted in national colours. Red was the national colour of Italy, Green for Britain, Yellow for Belgium, Blue for France, White for Germany and so on. Changing from Red for Ferrari would be like Manchester United moving away from a Red home kit, or Chelsea switching from a Blue home shirt. Unthinkable.
In modern day Formula 1, other than Red Bull and to a lesser extent Toro Rosso’s corporate identity, there isn’t a team other than Ferrari with such an entrenched connection to a set colour scheme.
Which is why, I think, the liveries we’ve seen so far leave a lot to be desired.
I’m going to leave Williams out of the discussion. Yes, more could be made out of the Martini stripes, but in just one short year that livery has marked itself out as instantly recognisable, strong and emotionally invested. It’s mega.
As for the others…
McLaren teed us up for their launch with a fun “Back to the Future” inspired clip. Indeed, the launch movie itself began with beautiful images of those classic McLaren Hondas and their evocative white and red liveries. Marlboro has gone, never to return of course, but those colours remain as emotive as ever. Could it be that McLaren had done what everyone had been praying for? Could it be that they’d realised the historical and passionate draw of that iconic livery? With no title sponsor that we knew of, there would be little restriction for them to create pretty much whatever they wanted. Could it actually be?
No. It couldn’t.
What was launched was a mess. Silver, black and a red glossy line that loops around the nose and ends at the red wing mirrors. If the intention was to hark back to the West / Vodafone liveries of silver, black and red… then it is a poor rendition at best. Weak. Meek. Indeed, the Force India launched one week before harkened back to those halcyon McLaren days of the 2000s more than McLaren’s own effort.
The VJM08 is, thus far, the car that surprised the most with its launch design. On first look it’s yet another underwhelming silver and black creation, but the flowing orange highlight pulls the car together. It was a shame not to see the lime green alongside the orange and one hopes that it can be incorporated into the design before Melbourne to really make the car feel like a Force India, but in the flesh it already looks gorgeous. Yes, it could be a 2010 Coloni GP2 car or a McLaren MP4-20, but it’s a cohesive and pretty design that works well.
The new McLaren MP4-30 lacks that cohesive feel. There are already whispers that it isn’t the final design, thus allowing McLaren a new livery launch before Melbourne and the associated PR boost that would allow, but why not just launch it in plain black or silver? Why bother launching with a design which, arguably, looks a little bit careless and more like a half-arsed HRT than a stunning McLaren Honda? One of my favourite online mock-ups is a metallic black and orange… surely a perfect testing if not race livery.
Indeed, the sheer number of fan designs cropping up online gives a hint of what might have been and the potential that exists in the renewal of one of the most successful and iconic partnerships in F1 history. If McLaren really was going “Back to the Future” it could have chosen to take influence from any one of the beautiful designs you can find with the click of a button online. It could have employed any one of the budding online designers to throw their efforts into it. It could have taken inspiration from Autosport’s front cover a year and a half ago. It could have taken influence from its own driver’s GP2 car.
What we got wasn’t even slightly “Back to the Future.” It was drab and boring. A nigh-on sponsorless car with a livery that reflected more of a need for going to back to basics than back to the future.
So with two almost identical looking cars in Force India and McLaren, one eagerly awaited the uninspiring grey of Sauber to be thrust upon us. But with Test and Reserve driver Raffaele Marciello already having tweeted a photo of his helmet, the visor strip in the yellow and blue of Banco do Brasil had already given a hint that we could expect something a bit different to the drab designs of recent years.
So while we can praise the Lord than the team launched in colours other then gun metal grey, one can find little reasoning for a livery apparently designed on Microsoft Paint. In 1998. So much for the potentially lovely blue and yellow livery. From the side, and when compared with last year’s car, however, it all becomes a little more clear. The design is almost identical. They’ve just replaced grey, white and red with blue, white and yellow. Once again, ten out of ten for imagination. (Sarcasm font)
It’s a little bit embarrassing when a look at junior formulae shows what can be done with a comparatively miniscule budget and a little bit of imagination. Carlin’s 2013 and 2014 GP2 liveries both pulled deference to the same sponsor that now adorns the Sauber. Both liveries were cohesive and strong, with flow and intrigue. They looked great on track and made the car instantly recognisable. Honestly, it’s really not that difficult. Again, there are enough mock ups online of what could have been done.
Ultimately you may ask why it all matters. This isn’t some fashion parade. In years to come, these cars aren’t going to adorn art galleries.
But a strong livery is a calling card, a coat of arms… a badge of honour. From a practical perspective they mark the team out in terms of marketing and merchandising. For television commentators, that livery makes the car and the driver instantly recognisable.
If I say Ferrari you think Red.
If I say Ligier you think Blue.
If I say Leyton House you think Turquoise.
If I say Jordan you either think 7up Green or Yellow and Black with a hornet or a snake on the nose.
The thing is, it does actually matter. It matters because Formula 1 is supposed to be inspirational. It is supposed to be visceral and enthralling. The cars are supposed to smash their way into your hearts, burn their way into your subconscious and stay there forever. They should take your breath away.
But these… they just don’t.