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Weekend debate: F1 liveries - Are they really boring this year?

Weekend debate: F1 liveries - Are they really boring this year?
Feb 27, 2016, 4:53 PM

Many readers have commented on how disappointed they are about the new liveries of the F1 cars this season.

Many readers have commented on how disappointed they are about the new liveries of the F1 cars this season. Many of them are black or variations on that theme and few stand out.

So JA on F1 went to ask Nick Downes for an expert view. His company Interstate does a lot of design work with F1 and brands working in the sport, as well as WEC, Formula E and other series. He's one of the top designers in motorsport, who was responsible for liveries like Jordan's iconic 'bitten and hisses' theme, as well as Jaguar liveries among others.

Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 15.41.02

JA: Nick, we can tell loud and clear from the comments that the fans aren't happy about the liveries this year; there are a lot of black cars out there aren’t there?

ND: It looks to me like they just don’t know what to do. Whether it’s because they just have no sponsors that are defining their own identities [I don’t know].

JA: Let's look at a few in detail.

Haas F1

JA: What about the new Haas F1?

ND: It looks like a child has done this. If this is a $100m programme, it looks as though they spent $100 dollars on it. The Haas logo is quite interesting, in that it is so poorly engineered for a company that makes computerised machine tools.

We re-drew that for him because some of those lines are not even parallel and Gene Haas likes tinkering around so he probably decided where this would go, but Guenther had us trying to design an identity for the Haas F1 team. I said “you need to look at this, there is probably some sense in putting a bit of distance between your Haas F1 team and your Haas sponsor because ultimately you want to roll down your Haas sponsor and bring up your Haas F1 team so while they are obviously a player, but they could perhaps generate 20 per cent and not 100 per cent of the budget.

But at the moment you're making that look so much like a hammer and ingot type of thing that if you go and try to find some new sponsors they can’t see past this dreadful logo design and clumsy identity.” It looks like a GP2 car.

The Mercedes doesn’t look like a GP2 car because somebody has tried to make this work. A lot of effort has gone into making the shapes look sympathetic and detailed. There’s no detail in that [Haas F1] at all.

JA: Let's talk about Manor. A new car and a new look

ND: It just looks horrible. Rio Haryanto

I don’t know what the colours are doing; I don’t know what the shapes are doing. They’ve got Pertamina, the Indonesian company, [if I was designing the livery] I think I would look for something that I could create that would be completely different so when that car rolls out, I know Pertamina haven’t provided the whole budget, but at least if you base it around Pertmaina, which is lime green and Indonesian, everyone would go “holy shit, what is that?” And that is really what you want.

The one thing John McDonald (RAM March boss) always did was make his cars look really lovely, even if they were the slowest cars running around in circles.

JA: Manor looks like a blank canvas that they’re going to put stuff onto?

ND: Steven [Fitzpatrick, the owner] is a guy who’s young enough to not have any shackles and just say ‘let’s do something completely different and really shake the whole thing up’ and [yet] that’s just a traditional race car layout with some masking tape.

There seems to be a massive lack of intention when clearly this is about zero cost, given the overall spend of a Formula 1 team, to get the identity of the car right and then have it all cascade into the rest. Kevin Magunssen

JA: Any redeeming features on the (black) Renault?

I can’t quite work out whether I like this or not. I love the idea of a making a graphic out of it, the (yellow) bargeboards on the Renault, then running it in a vertical stripe because it sort of runs against the flow of the car, but it’s such a strong graphic it’s quite nice.

We did something like this for Unilever; but a company like Williams are so defensive. You’ve got a company like Rexona on there, which if you put a sticker on there might as well be British Oxygen. This is a brand that talks to loads of customers, but you don’t do anything that looks retail – so we took a can and applied it to the bargeboard so the bargeboard looked like a can – a macro supermarket shelf, with loads of stickers everywhere. Lewis Hamilton

JA: Let's look at the cars we'll be seeing most of on the TV this season. Starting with thoughts on the Mercedes?

ND: Elegant, clean, silver: Mercedes-like. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it, I think it looks nice, but it’s not got any attitude. I’m wondering whether they knocked in these black panels to disguise stuff because they look a bit unsympathetic. We used to do stuff like that, particularly at Jaguar, where you knocked out all of the areas you don’t want to be seen, and I think Adrian Newey used to do that quite a lot, to hide stuff in the shadows. I’m wondering if the introduction of these is to disguise stuff they’re doing rather than because they think it looks attractive. I don’t think it makes the car look faster.

I think it’s a bit more clumsy than last year. Last year was almost a bit more esoteric, very viscous and soft.


JA: I quite like the 1970s retro styling around the cockpit on the Ferrari. What do you think?

ND: I think Ferrari have really lost the plot now, it looks like a 1970s Niki Lauda Ferrari.

JA: What’s wrong with that?

ND: It’s nice if you’re going retro but I don’t think this sport can afford to go retro. You’ve got to start pushing boundaries out. If you look at what cycling teams are doing, if you look at skiing – all the active sports are so much more interesting than we are, visually. They are learning our tricks and now doing them better. We invented all this stuff through the years.

The Ferrari is not really a livery, it just exists like that, and they are disrupting it quite a lot. If you look at the black collar running through, it’s not very pretty. And then they’re creating an ugly, negative shape with the white on the red. It’s uglier than you think because they are trying to wiggle their way through to open up enough space underneath to put a sponsor logo on. Then they have Santander and Kaspersky on the nose, so the only good thing about this car is that is looks quite good commercially.

Ferrari F1

Q: So is it commercially driven?

ND: It’s commercially driven [and] somewhat tortured to accommodate some of [the logos]. It would be nice to know if it needs to be that awkward. Also, opening this shape up, because you have three bands of colour, that becomes very narrow, just behind the front wheels on the nose of the Ferrari. You’ve got black underneath and you’ve got a white sandwich and red cap. It then starts to become very busy through there and if you look at the Red Bull it’s a very solid nose, although it does dip down.

Jordan F1 car

Q: What was the high-water mark for you in F1 livery design?

ND: Probably because we were heavily involved in it [but] the Jordan time when you actually had a car that had expressions. We did all that original thinking and the car took on a personality and the personality changed to suit the attitude or the character of the team. It was very much about Eddie – I knew Eddie from when he was running his F3000 team – and this guy has massive charisma so we knew we could get him to do stuff.

So we tried a number of different things; we had the idea that actually you could animate the car and give the car its own personality. So we added Memphis Bell fighter graphics to it. In the beginning it wasn’t a snake. But the whole idea was it was a simple bold graphic that the media would jump on every race and it would change race-by-race or even by day. It could even change from Saturday qualifying to Sunday’s race. If they had had a bad Friday it [looked angry], or if they had a great Saturday it [looked happy].

The one that we sold into BAT was after Montreal that year where Ralf had taken Michael Schumacher out at the first corner and so at the next race, probably Magny-Cours, Ralf turned up and [his car] had bits of Ferrari coming out of his teeth. When Eddie saw it he said, “that’s f**ing genius” and that’s what the guys at BAT said, “that’s so cool”, because then you can apply it to clothing, you can apply it to print and just have the whole narrative running.

We’re talking about 1995, 1996 and 1997, so 20 years ago or something, and [now] we’re back to this, black cars.

Force India 2016

JA: Let's get back to the 2016 cars; Force India?

ND: I think the problem is they’ve got loads of stuff they don’t need because Sahara is an owner and that is dominating the identity, whereas what you really want to do is bring forward some of the other brands so that you give it some character. Logos on black panels doesn’t really help anybody. Jenson Button

JA: McLaren always put massive effort into the look and feel of their cars. How have they done here?

ND: McLaren at least looks elegant – although empty. I don’t know if I like it, at least red, white and black is very macho [but] that’s also a problem. I think you could do with a lot more femininity in it.

JA: Is that because people think cars are ‘she’s’?

ND: I think so and you can make it more stylish. The Red Bull has gone clumsy like hell now.

Red Bull F1

JA: Speaking of Red Bull, it now looks like a Toro Rosso to me, I'll have to be careful when commentating, but what is the matte paint treatment all about? (There is some speculation is has an low drag aero benefit)

ND: I don’t know because I don’t think it works on TV. Williams ran with a matte treatment in the last couple of years and it looks really dead. I think [Red Bull] will lose a lot because they had a very high finish to that car under lacquer and now they’ve gone for these flat [colours].

I think it’s real shame they’ve gone matte. But [also] they’ve got no sponsors on the car now, that’s the other thing. They’ve lost Infiniti, they’ve lost Total – [but] they’ve got Tag Heuer [and] they’ve got some very bold graphics there. Felipe Nasr

JA: What do you think of the Sauber livery?

ND: I think it looks wrong and it all lacks a bit of finesse. To get things to look nice there needs to be a bit more detail and when I saw this [I thought] “it looks like a GP2 car.” It’s not ugly, because I think the colours are really nice together but nobody has any concept work going into these cars.

There’s no character coming through. There is nothing below the surface [and] you never get to find something else – it’s two-dimensional.

We’ve gone through ages, even going back to Parmalat Brabhams’ – they were quite powerful. That was 1980 and they were so strong. Even the early Arrows, there was more to them and now, I don’t know what it is, they simply don’t know.

Q: What are your all-time favourite liveries?

ND: I liked the Brabhams. I like the Ragno Arrows, the orange and white one with the grids – a really simple and silly idea to deck out the sidepods in tiles, because Ragno was a ceramic company. So somebody tried to play the graphic idea through there and I think it worked. They also had Beta, which was orange, so they thought “this is great we’ve got three companies that are orange, white and black” – so I think that was nice.

Arrows F1

JA: Let's talk about a livery that works, the Williams.

ND: It looks good, that car, and it could be fast. It looks like a car that could be fast. It looks tighter than last year.

JA: Do the tighter and tighter sidepods help with livery design? Felipe Massa

ND: Probably not. I’m not too familiar [but] you need some flow to a car. I don’t particularly like this, because that’s just tortuous. I think that is a bit like painting the body panels different colours across the shut lines so you end up with doors. You get that in Carrera Cup cars, so on a Porsche they just paint the bonnet another colour and it just looks like somebody else’s bonnet – and you never do that, you make the graphics cross the car, not define the shapes of the car.

JA: Is white a good colour for a racing car?

ND: I don’t think it’s a bad colour for that car. I think when Jackie Stewart did it he just did it out of convenience because it was a convenient logo canvas and I think to some extent the same is true here. But if you think you have one white car and three or four black ones, a red one, a blue one – they are still lacking any sort of real identity. What is the difference between McLaren and Renault – virtually nothing.

JA: So sum up your thoughts?

ND: It doesn’t look like anybody is having fun.

Do you agree with Nick Downes' views? Which liveries do you like and which have disappointed you? Leave your comments below

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