With Formula One cars having near identical
shapes to the casual eye, the immediate distinction between them is their livery: the colour scheme
and design that adorns their shapes from nose to tail.
A team’s livery has to be a number of things all at once: a style, an insignia, an identity
and – yes – a two hundred mile an hour billboard. Such is the expensive nature of modern F1.
How do F1 cars achieve (or fail at) all of this and what considerations go into designing
the livery of a Formula One car? Let’s have a look.
From initial concepts to a finished product, Formula One liveries can take a long time
to conceive – sometimes as long as 6 months with tens of ideas first hitting the drawing
board, slowly being whittled down and honed into the colours we see at launch.
And this is true even with liveries that seem not to change much year-on-year, like Mercedes
or Ferrari. Initial concepts will be drawn onto 2D projections
– that is, templates of the car from side-on, above or even head-on to gain a feel for the
idea you’re going for. This isn’t really enough to go with though,
so some of the better ideas are then painted – for want of a better word – onto digital
3D models that can be twisted and turned in all directions. It may turn out that the design
that looked good on a flat template kind of falls apart at certain angles or loses some
of the essence you were going for. Renault, with their recent livery, have really
leaned into the idea that a livery takes on different forms from different angles with
a car that looks completely yellow from the front, and almost completely black from the
side with the full picture only coming together from a shifted perspective.
Working in digital space also allows designers to drop the 3D model into different environments
– on track, against different background, even in the different lighting conditions
that come with bright sunshine, heavy cloud, dusk, nighttime or even a spotlit stage at
a car launch or event. The liveries are then continually tweaked
as the new model of car is developed by the team. Surfaces of F1 cars can get very complex
and the livery’s flowing lines, areas of colour and logos may suddenly find themselves
in awkward areas if the designers add a winglet here, a bump there, a hole in the engine cover,
etc, etc. The exact nature of the design may change several times to accommodate changes
to the shape of the chassis, even during the season.
In terms of the way the design points of the livery are put together – you’ll find designers
work from a position of using the lines of the bodywork or the sense of airflow along
the body of the car as a reference point. From here you can block out patterns that
go along these lines or deliberately cross them.
Among this year’s cars you can see Mercedes and Williams stripes following the lines of
imagined airflow, which is more common these days, with Toro Rosso going a bit more old
school with their horizontal stripe, an style shown admirably on the 1997 Minardi back when
chassis were a little more boxy anyway. In terms of cutting across lines of bodywork,
you’ll sometimes see this on the nose to break up the space for sponsors, but occasionally
on the full body too. The classic McLaren Marlboro design features
shapes that deliberately and aggressively cross the lines of bodywork but it works both
because the lines cut almost perpendicularly to the line of the engine cover, balancing
it out, and because the upward stripe plays into the idea that the car is pulled forward
from beneath, skewing it across the top. This is the same trick of the eye that the
current and next generation of F1 car shapes pull, skewing back the wings and body shapes
to make it “look fast” You have to be incredibly careful picking
how to cross the flow of the bodywork with your colour blocks. Force India have a pretty
solid 2018 livery, but these stripes at the back look clunky as their direction doesn’t
really fit with what’s being suggested by the car’s shape. It makes the back end look
saggy and badly balanced, design wise. Of course, a huge part of your livery design
is the colour scheme, and this is something that ends up being trickier for teams than
you might think. See, your colour scheme and style is all part
of your bigger branding. Brand isn’t necessarily a bad, cold, corporate thing that’s just
about marketing and logos. Brand is just a reflection of your team’s identity and that’s
not just going to be displayed on your cars but on your uniforms, your trucks, your press
releases and your merchandise. If you want your fans to wear your gear, you
want it all to feel very much like what your team is about. Ferrari caps should feel Ferrari,
Renault shirts should feel Renault. When McLaren shifted from a long period of
greys, silver and black to a brighter, orange colour scheme that wasn’t just about a move
away from Mercedes. That was the team moving from its deliberate clinical, corporate personality
to one that’s more full of life and the spirit of its old-school racing heritage.
A colour scheme might also be determined by agreements with a title sponsor, as most evidenced
by the current Williams and Force India cars who are completely decked out in Martini and
BWT branding respectively. Having a livery determined by the title sponsor
will mean some negotiations with your other sponsors to ensure they are conspicuous and
aren’t overshadowed as may be your worry if your logo is stuck onto what is essentially
a massive BWT billboard. But just because your livery isn’t branded
by your sponsor, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to negotiate with your sponsors on the
final design. After all, they’re paying a lot of money to sit on the car and expect
a certain size and prominence. Any important text or logos need to be as
visible as agreed in terms of the space they are given on the cars, which means – colour-wise,
designs need to be careful about the midtones. A light logo can be placed on a dark background;
a dark logo should be placed against a light background. Mid-tones can get a bit tricky.
If we look at the Mercedes livery with its unique fade from bright silver to dark grey,
we see how white logos are placed in the dark areas and dark logos are placed in bright
areas. Where logos may straddle mid-tones they are given a contrasting border to ensure
they aren’t lost. Before they mastered the fade effect, Mercedes
liveries were a lot less effective as they struggled with mid-tones: their 2011 effort
kept the engine cover matte silver which left the sponsors a little lost, while their first
livery in 2010 used an oily streak of black on the engine cover and a black Petronas logo
in a very messy attempt to work around the silver ‘brand colour’.
McLaren is another example: their choice of orange in 2017 was a tricky tone to contrast
against and neither the white nor the black stood out particularly well against this backing.
The lighter papaya orange used for 2018 was a much better canvas for its sponsors and
insignia. Nowadays quite a few of the teams have moved
in the direction of convincing their sponsors to work within their colour scheme. So instead
of having to worry about balancing logos of many different colours across your livery,
you pick colours that that contrast well together and render all your sponsor logos in that
colour. Lotus managed this with their black and gold
livery, though Total would not give up their red branding so Lotus adopted it as an accent
colour in a slightly clumsier-than-ideal solution. Ferrari, on the other hand, have chosen – in
general – to use sponsor logos as they come, which ends up (arguably) in a slightly messy
array of advertisements down the body of their car.
And it’s not just the sponsors you’ve got to worry about disappearing. The livery
as a whole has to make the car unique and distinct on track.
Darker colours, particularly greys and blacks can result in the cars being difficult to
make out on track, particularly on bright days when the track is bright and reflective
and the background is illuminated. In close-up, the lighter sponsor logos and accents will
pop, but at a distance the car is more likely to fall into complete silhouette as the camera
will balance out the brightness of the overall image by making darker colours darker.
It’s also all too easy to create a livery that will look almost identical to another
team’s car on track. On paper, and at launch events, the Williams and Sauber cars look
very different. Unfortunately, a huge amount of the TV footage
is shot face-on, zoomed in down a long straight. And from the front, with that kind of TV shot,
the Sauber and Williams with their white noses with thin, dark stripes are indistinguishable
at first glance. Midland F1 and McLaren often had the same
problem back in 2006. This problem of standing out and keeping a
unique identity is the kind of thing that can be resolved with the clever use of accent
colours – colouring the tip of the nose, giving the rear or front wing a colour or tone that
stands out… something like that. And sometimes teams will make simple changes like this mid
season in order to distinguish themselves from a similar looking car.
In this image we can see this year’s pack of cars have done a mostly good job at creating
unique liveries that are easily distinguishable, but the Williams and Saubers need a bit of
a squint and a think to tell them apart. And in this still image they’re not even moving.
Finally it’s important to remember that paint is a physical substance. Not only does
it have weight – a classic bugbear in Formula 1 – but different colours and paint types
have different weights. For example – lighter colours require thicker
coats than darker colours – so a white paint job may be twice as heavy as an equivalent
black livery. Different finishes also weigh different amounts – McLaren’s iconic chrome
paint was notorious for being heavier than regular paint and a lot of work was put in
for years to get its density down. Remember also that stripes, accents and other
blocks of colour are layers on top of the base colour and a lot of work goes into keeping
these extra layers of paint as smooth and flush with the base as possible so as not
to disturb the aerodynamic flow of the body work.
In this regard, paint is also used to smooth other joins where pieces of bodywork meet
to reduce the effect of the big old seam in someone’s nicely designed chassis.
This is why the cars are constantly buffed and polished across the weekend – not just
to keep the logos all shiny, but to keep the surfaces smooth and working as designed.
So, from initial scribblings on a simple template to giving the stripes a good old shine on
race day, a heck of a lot of work goes into a car’s livery. Sometimes fans despair when
liveries lack bravery or imagination – and often rightly so.
But there’s a whole lot of competing interests to balance in making a livery that works for
your team – sometimes it’s best to take the Williams approach and change your whole
scheme everytime you change partners. Sometimes it’s best to pick a team colour and run
with it come hell or high water, like Ferrari. But the good thing for fans is that we’ve
currently got one of the most colourful grids in years. Q & A
OK, remember how I was going to do Q&As at the end of these? Yeah I forgot. Oops! So
let’s have another go. Question 1: “HigoChumbo asks if they’re
the only one who found 2012’s aquiline nosed cars gorgeous” and the answer is: yes. You
are definitely the only one. And more power to you, HugoChumbo. Love is blind.
Question 2: “Am I a Chelsea fan?”. No Thando, I’m not. I’m not even a football
fan – I just used Chelsea and Man U images in the Concepts video as they’d be easily
identifiable. I’ve had a lot of people asking what this
credits music is. It’s called “Chess Moves” by Telegrams. It’s on their eponymous album
“Telegrams”, which I think is on iTunes and Spotify and all that stuff.
Question 4: Can we have a follow up on the HANS device. Yes! This is in response to my
helmets video. I had originally included a section on the HANS but decided to scrap it
in interests of time and instead use it in a future video on car safety systems.
And finally: a lot of people have asked why a lot of my videos appear on Autosport as
well as here. This is part of a deal I have with Motorsport.com who basically help fund
this channel and allow me to make the videos I want to make regularly. What they get is
a video out of me at least once per race. So I’ll still continue to make video exclusively
for this channel that don’t appear elsewhere but there will still be regular double-ups
across both channels until at least the Spring. And honestly, watch the video wherever you
prefer – I’ll try and include Q&As in the ones on this channel. Please do stay subscribed
to this channel though as there will still be extra videos here – both the Last Week
in F1 style video and full explainer videos, like the 2021 Concepts analysis which only
appeared on this channel! Cheers for your patience and hope you continue
to enjoy all of my work! You’ve been amazing.