Peter Stevens on Formula 1 Car Graphics

Thirty years or more ago I was asked to devise graphic identities for many racecars; it was great fun but I took the task very seriously. Back then most of the world watched sport on television on small black and white TVs, obviously the spectators saw the cars in color but they were only thousands compared with the many millions who could not get to see a race except on television.

When I was asked to work on the colors and sponsor graphics for Brabham’s F1 cars they were mostly red with white, light blue and dark blue lines and letters. During that first season, 1978, I was surprised at how different the car looked on a color TV compared with a black and white set. So towards the end of the season I bought a small black and white to experiment with what color combinations worked best when seen on this television. Black, white and yellow worked well as did dark blue and white. Renault was already using the yellow with black and white graphics so I proposed to Brabham that we use dark blue and white. These colors became the well-known ‘Parmalat Brabham’ identity.

The sole purpose of the graphics on a racecar is to give exposure to the companies that sponsor the race team. The theory is that by presenting a strong image and graphic identity on television every couple of weeks, a ‘brand’ will become familiar to the viewers; they will then associate that brand with the fast moving and glamorous world of motorsport. To do this successfully viewers have to recognize the product names on the car. This can be done through the Martini color stripes on the Williams for example, or the very strong ‘bull’ logo that Red Bull use on their two teams. But just as Formula 1 has not really understood how many different devices young people use to view F1 in 2015, the sponsors have not properly realized how indistinct their logos are when viewed on a mobile phone, or tablet, for example.

Most of the 2015 graphic schemes on F1 cars look as though they have been designed in side view and plan view only. When colored stripes cross over surfaces and edge radii without consideration for the form the whole image can look cheap and crude. The Martini stripes on the Williams are a good example of this, the way they fall off the top surface and wander around on the front wing supports is just amateur. Ferrari’s white line that separates the red from the black lower coloring looks OK in side view but hopeless from any other angle. The break in the line, hidden in side view by the front wheel, once seen, is a constant reminder of how subtle the art of applying lines to a three dimensional form is, and how easy it is to fail.


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