F1 liveries: Why performance is stifling creativity

Formula One livery reveals. For fans, they’ve always been a highlight of the season. Which team has created the best design? Who has picked the best colours? Which creative mind has penned something iconic? Reveals help to peak excitement levels ahead of the opening GP. But not this season.

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Black – or bare carbon to be precise – has emerged as a primary ‘colour’ of choice for many teams in 2024. It seems performance needs have stifled F1’s sense of creativity when it comes to designing knock-out liveries this time around.

F1 liveries criticised for looking ‘glum’

Sky F1 pundit Martin Brundle was quick to post his thoughts on X last week. While he praised Aston Martin’s creative work, which uses lots of British Racing Green paint, he wasn’t as impressed with the efforts of others in the pitlane.

The nine-time podium finisher wrote: “The Aston looking classy. Teams should be rewarded with a weight allowance for more complete liveries which will stand out on track for spectators and viewers. The field should look dynamic, it’s F1. Some of them look glum and half finished.”

With six of the 10 liveries in 2024 – the exceptions being Ferrari, Aston Martin, Red Bull and Visa Cash App RB Formula One Team – appearing to sport lots of bare carbon, he has a point. But penning a new look for an F1 car isn’t as straightforward as many think.

Past versus present

GroupWhistle has spoken to various team insiders to understand the factors that influence current livery design, and to assess what effect the decision to use lots of plain black surfaces could have on the sport in the long run.

First, a bit of historical context. Livery design was once magical. There was a time when teams loved slapping loads of paint on cars to create something memorable. Think the Lotus 98T, the McLaren MP4/4, the Williams FW14B and the Mercedes W10. All cars that have earned a special place in history.

Fast-forward to today, and livery designers don’t have free reign. Performance is everything in F1 and, sadly, having an aesthetically-pleasing car is no longer a top priority.

In recent times, exposed carbon has become a common feature on cars. It’s not a new phenomenon. As performance areas, tubs and floors have been left unpainted or unwrapped because it makes it harder for shapes to be defined and design secrets to be given away.

But there’s definitely been a more dramatic shift in recent years towards an acceptance that F1 cars are performance vehicles and machines, and having what was once considered unsightly carbon fibre weave on show, is now de rigueur.

Driving forces behind F1 livery design

There are various reasons why liveries have got simpler and creativity has been stifled. The first is time. Technical departments are releasing their car designs later and later these days, and the knock-on effect is that creatives – who often have to also roll their designs out across other formulae including F2, F3, F4, F1 Academy and WEC – have less hours to create something beautiful.

Then there’s the weight consideration. Teams spend literally millions of pounds getting weight out of a car, so why would they want to put it back on with paint and stickers?

Operating within the parameters of F1’s cost cap is also a big consideration. With a packed, 24-race schedule, the turnaround of performance parts and repairs needs to be as simple as possible to save time and increase efficiency. Shipping bits back to the factory is a thing of the past and repairs are now completed at the track. One team told us that painting a single front wing can eat up 130 man hours, whereas a vinyl-wrapped alternative is typically turned around in a tenth of the time. No contest.

And the complexities of modern F1 car design also supports simple livery design. Today’s aero priorities have made packaging incredibly tight and teams are pulling carbon fibre closer and closer to the packaging. As a consequence, certain areas of F1 cars now get very hot and if they’re painted or vinyl wrapped, the covering simply burns off and is destroyed.

Engaging F1 fans is crucial

But while there are a good number of reasons to keep liveries simple, there is also one compelling reason to keep lots of colour on an F1 car: brand maintenance. Without a consistent identity and colour way, it’s very hard for fans to form a long-term relationship with a particular team from one season to the next.

The teams that consistently pass this particular test with flying colours are Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes. But others are struggling to nail down a clear identity – a legacy of budgetary challenges and regular title sponsor changes. Step forward Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber, and Visa CashApp Red Bull Formula 1.

Action that will peak excitement

So, what’s the solution to the F1 livery conundrum? Well, as a sport that’s brought together and celebrated the best of everything – whether that’s design, engineering, manufacturing, strategy, or driver talent – for more than 80 years, it would be great if livery design was considered just as important and added to the sport’s list of hero capabilities.

F1 cars should look exciting, colourful and fast. And a good first step towards making that a reality is the FIA demanding that teams apply design coverage to a certain percentage of their cars. If that happens, F1 cars will come alive again and pre-season livery reveals will regain their status as one of the highlights of the F1 season.

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GroupWhistle have a dedicated F1 studio design capability. Call us on +44 (0) 1865 727 654 or email enquiries@groupwhistle.com