Once more this year, Formula 1 teams waited until the start of winter testing to unveil their new cars, and once more this year, they did it all very modestly from the pitlane.
Gone are the times of extravagant launches. No more Spice Girls, no more Red Square parties, no more ice acrobatics. This year, even social media action was scarce in the build up to the new season.
So it seemed like a good time for Motorsport.com to catch up with Stephane Samson, former head of marketing and communication at Lotus F1 Team.
Would you say you were dropped into F1 with Lotus?
“Not really! Even before I arrived, the team and I talked a lot about how we wanted to position ourselves. A key factor was that the team needed to reinvent itself. A new name also meant a new brand image. So we changed the livery of the car, we changed the website… we changed basically everything.
"The other key factor was the board, which gave us full support. We really had carte blanche to create something that was completely unique in F1. You don’t see that every day in our sport. And that’s why Lotus’ was so strong from the communication point of view for three seasons."
Your positioning in terms of image really was unique…
"We would never have taken this approach with another team. At McLaren, for example, we would have put the emphasis on technology and attention to detail. At Ferrari, it would have been all about passion and heritage.
“Only Lotus could make this cheekiness stick. In this regard, Kimi Raikkonen’s return was just what we needed. His attitude meshed really well with our strategy. It must have been nice for him too. For once, he was encouraged to be himself. We went as far as making t-shirts using some of his best radio messages!”
Do you think you went too far sometimes?
“When you’re walking a thin line, you risk going over once in a while. We knew the risk. We knew we might upset a sponsor now and then. But F1 is not about playing it safe.
“Our record is proof of that. Some sponsors rewarded us for the risks we took, choosing us over bigger teams. We were the first to strike a deal with a label company, for example.”
What do you think of today’s F1?
“From the communication point of view, the downsizing we’re seeing with launches is now a given. I think it’s a consequence of ever-tightening budgets. Also, the engineering aspect is taking more and more space: competition is so tight out there, you can’t afford to take the new car away for a photo shoot anymore, unless it’s a direct request from a major sponsor.
“Rather worryingly, the sport is still managed very firmly. For a sponsor, everything is either forbidden or rewarding. Teams are offering marketing packages that are no longer up to date with modern sport. But there’s a lot of us poring over this question. And from where I’m standing, rules are made to be broken!”