The Slew Of New F1 Liveries Is Equal Parts Boring And Exciting
Pre-season testing took place earlier today for the 2018 Formula 1 teams, with Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya hosting the new field of cars as they performed their first viewable shakedowns. In terms of times by day’s end, Red Bull’s Ricciardo left with the fastest recorded lap (1:20.179) ahead of Bottas in the Mercedes W09 and Raikkonen in the Ferrari SF71H. The Red Bull RB14, besides the quickest, was also the only car to complete more than 100 testing laps on the cold and then damp day in southern Spain. In other news, Alonso had positive things to say about his McLaren MCL33 with the new Renault power unit, claiming “huge potential.” Then again, that’s probably something one would say regardless of how much truth it carried at this point in the season.
However, a wet day at the beginning of official testing doesn’t decide the finishing order of the actual races to come, so rather than trying to overanalyze broken wheel nuts or read too far into snippets of conversation, let’s look at some of the more noteworthy cars in a literal sense instead. Alfa’s pseudo-return to the sport (recall they have paired up with Sauber as a “strategic, commercial, and technological” partner) is bringing in some nostalgia to the grid, and some of the the other liveries will also reflect the past for this season of the most technologically advanced racing in the world.
The most obvious to hark on their history this year is McLaren. Their new car, the MCL33 as it’s called, sheds the black scallops and curves of their 2017 machine and has definitively replaced that old orange with the company’s signature shade of the color, called Papaya Orange. A deep metallic blue serves as the accent color on elements like the front splitter and rear wing (do they even call them splitters and wings anymore, or will they soon become pieces of some convoluted name like “atmospheric manipulation system”?). And that’s pretty much it.
McLaren says the decision is a reflection of them listening to the fans and honoring their history, and that’s great in theory, but a bit boring in practice. Perhaps once/if they receive some more sponsorship the livery will incorporate something other than basic colors, perhaps even a stripe! While Grand Prix cars from the time when it was still called Grand Prix racing have achieved exalted status in our memories, their lithe forms with barely-covered mechanicals—you barely hear the engines today, let alone see them bursting out of the back of these cars like some Alien-V8 hybrid—could pull off these one-color-no-frills schemes. Look at Dan Gurney’s M14A we featured earlier today for instance. The new one, to me, just looks awkward with its clandestine bulges big expanses of nothing but color.
Alfa Romeo Sauber C37
The Swiss Sauber team will be powered by Ferrari in 2018, but it will be prominently sheathed in the paintwork of its other Italian partner: Alfa Romeo. We touched on this pairing when it was first announced, and though it’s not a true return for Alfa in the sense that nothing about the car can be distinctly identified as having come from their side of the shop, it will be a treat just to see the Quadrifoglio back in the F1 grid again, and not just hidden on the shoulder blades of the Ferraris this time. Bemoan it as marketing, pine for the days of the BT46 “fan car” all you want, but it’s only a good thing that this is happening. At the very least, rejoice in the fact that it signals FCA’s plans to further develop this next generation of Alfa sports cars on the road. This is supposed to be about liveries though, and this car is one of the more striking of the lot.
The front, white half of the car features a black outline along the top edge of the nose where the horizontal and vertical planes meet, and it complements the exposed bits of carbon and the other space-age composites making up the car’s suspension and aerodynamics. It looks very mechanical as a result, black and white, grid-like, scientific and stark. The back end continues the structure of the livery (by that I just mean the line-based layout), but adds a bold block of deep red to the rear shell with a prominent Alfa Romeo “Cross and Serpent” splashed across it in contrasting white. It’s the best of the bunch in my opinion; distinct yet simple, attention-seeking but cleanly-executed.
Like the McLarens, the Ferraris in 2018 will be painted in their trademark racing color, and also like the McLaren, it’s a total bore to look at. Keeping the links to heritage is a well-intentioned decision, especially from a marketing standpoint in the case of McLaren which can at least bank on its reputation rather than its results (the Renault power units in place of the dismal Honda-provided ones could see the once-great team back in the news for something other than disappointment, hopefully). Most notable on the new Ferrari from an aesthetic standpoint is the actual construction of the car, with its odd side-pods standing out in the 2018 field and drawing plenty of attention already because of it. The livery though is more or less a simplification of the previous season’s: Santander is noticeably absent from the sponsor stickers this year, and there’s red where there used to be some white. That’s about it. A few stripes of the Italian flag. Not very inspired, but then again, when you’re the company with an unofficial monopoly on a color synonymous with speed, why not use it?
It’s said that the idea for the “halo” system was originally conceived by Mercedes a few years ago as an alternative to closed cockpits and other more cumbersome solutions, and their latest car for the upcoming season also features a new power unit, while other top contenders in that regard—like Ferrari and Renault—will be running very similar setups to last year’s. The Mercedes then looks like one of the most changed cars on paper, but from the outside not much is new. The mostly monochrome scheme with a splash of teal/cyan/seafoam/whatever you prefer to call it, has carried over from previous iterations of their F1 cars, though the striping down the side pods bears a lot of similarity to their F1-inspired hypercar, the AMG Project ONE.
Overall, it’s more of an update than a revolution in terms of the livery, and, overall, we like the result. The bright, fluid pattern of color along the side of the W09 is evocative of wind tunnel testing, and for a sport that’s often won and lost based on the results of such testing it’s a fitting design element. Time will tell whether anyone will see anything other than the backs of the Mercs though.
Red Bull RB14
Finally we have the Red Bull liveries for their flagship team. The blue “urban camouflage” of the pre-pre-season car (oh boy) was never going to stick around, and while it was a relatively unique paint job (“relatively,” because they’ve already pulled this camo-style test-car stunt before), it seemed a bit too messy to be impactful beyond the recognition that it didn’t look like the others. The official racing livery for the team though looks great, as the Bulls typcially have since entering the sport in 2005. The charging mascot seems like it was originally conceived to adorn a composite F1 engine cover rather than a thin metal can, and the color scheme is taken from the Red Bull palette to create a balance between stately and mature blues and the more vibrant, energetic if you will, yellows and reds.
I tried to focus on the cars that most people will be looking at in the coming season, but personally my favorite livery of today’s testing was that of the Renault factory team looked like a high-tech hornet in its geometric black and yellow design last year too, but the update is predominantly black and looks a lot more menacing for it. Anyway, what do you think about the new crop?