As we are counting down to the launches of the new cars, with Ferrari at the end of this week and most of the other teams at the start of next week, I thought it would be good to investigate an area that is central to the “look” of a new car, but is often overlooked – the livery.
When we see a new car we see the livery – and quickly get used to it as an identifier on TV – but don’t necessarily take in how it was designed, what it aims to achieve and so on. And yet it is crucial to the identity of the team as this is the main showcase for the team on television, so teams put a lot of thought into the look and feel of their car.
I went behind the scenes to find out more from a team whose livery is likely to cause the most conversation this launch season; the Renault team with its new black and gold colour scheme, echoing the famous JPS Lotus colours of the 1970s and 80s. This is an iconic colour scheme which most fans over 35 will have grown up with and which will be the favourite of many.
I spoke to Renault’s head of graphics Jon Woods, who has been around since the Benetton days in the 1990s, designing liveries for the team. He is the man who designed the Lotus-style livery you will see on this year’s Renault car.
“A livery is a statement of intent and a statement of who you are, ” he says. “Last year we were purely Renault and we had the black and yellow livery to reflect that. In previous years we had a title partner and the livery reflected the brand of the title partner (ING) in conjunction with the Renault brand.
‘This time around it’s more pure, it’s not sharing the space with anyone. It’s the first time in my career I’ve had the luxury of using the colours of one famous racing brand.”
The colours used on the new Renault livery are not exactly the same as on the old JPS Lotus, “I’ve used real gold, ” says Woods, “You wouldn’t believe how many golds there are and how many blacks as well, there are thousands! The black isn’t a true black, it’s got gold in it, so in the sunlight it will really show. I hope that will work well on the TV cameras”
I’ve always imagined that teams do extensive screen tests in front of TV cameras when developing a livery, but this isn’t always the case, “It depends how much money you have,” says Woods. “We normally do colour testing on camera, if not on video then we’ll do it photographically because it’s all digital so it’s understanding how colours work digitally.
“Black doesn’t give you the exposure of yellow or orange, but it does give you a pretty car. We may lose visibility and sheer impact of colour on TV, but we will have a beautiful car.”
Teams do however use 3D visualising software, a Mac application called Cinema 4D. “It’s a software that allows us not just to visualise the car, but to create a whole world for it, racing backgrounds and so on and it all looks super-real. We use real CAD data, with the real shape of the and we put skins on it. That’s helped us a lot in quickly understanding what might work and what certainly won’t work.”
Renault will not have a different livery for the night races at Singapore and Abu Dhabi, “Under artificial lights our car will jump out of the screen,” he adds. “Certainly the gold elements will. That’s another reason why we chose a black that has some gold elements in it, because it will pick up some colour and lustre.”
Jon reveals that he began working on the colour scheme in August last year, as the Lotus deal came together,
“We thought, ‘Let’s reflect a moment of glory in Lotus’ history and use those colours. What I’ve tried to do is give a nod to that part of the history, deference to a famous livery, but taking it a but further. I’ve got a contemporary race car to work with and it’s quite a different shape from the old cars.
When designing a livery what are the key areas of the car to get focus on?
“Inevitably around the cockpit area, the nose and the forward part of the sidepod, ” says Woods, “The shoulders of the sidepod are where we have our gold lines at their thickest. If you have thin lines at the centre of the car the livery looks weak. They should be thick in the middle of the car and taper out towards the front and the back. They are not straight thin lines like they were on the original livery, I’ve adapted it to give maximum impact.”
One of the advantages of having a black car is that you need less layers of paint to cover it than a white car, so you save weight, probably worth up to half a tenth of a second per lap. Painting an F1 car white, requires three or four layers and uses around 4 kilos of paint. A black car needs only one base layer and one top coat, so saves around 30% of paint. At a race like Barcelona in pure performance terms that equates to four seconds over a 66 lap race, although the cars have to hit a minimum weight, it still confers a saving.
The team has followed McLaren in getting sponsors to place their logos not in their own corporate colours, but in a team colour scheme, in this case gold lettering on a black background. I’ve always thought this must be a tough sell as it makes the logos harder to identify. “You have to get them to understand that it’s a culture change for us and get them on board and most of them have been great, ” says Woods.
However contractually Total have insisted on their logo being on a red background, which features on the front and rear wings. Jon describes the red as an “accent” colour, “Three colours is always stronger than two and the accent colour is something that catches the eye, you don’t need a lot of it, but it just works that way.”
There has been some suggestion that the team may face some legal difficulty because the livery is based on a historical tobacco sponsorship, which is now banned in most countries and illegal in certain ones, even though the team is not receiving money from JPS. But Woods rejects any connection with JPS cigarettes in this context,
” When I designed it, I didn’t have a fag packet in my hand,” he says. “It’s not something that has crossed my mind. No, (we’re not concerned about it) it’s the furthest thing from our minds.”