Renault RS16 livery launch

The death of the F1 car launch

2016 F1 season

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It was billed as the launch of Renault’s return as a full F1 car constructor. What we got was the awkward sight of Renault’s top staff ‘revealing’ a car which it quickly transpired was neither the actual RS16 chassis nor the livery the team will race in 2016.

It pointed to an increasingly obvious fact: the days of the high-profile F1 car launch are over.

McLaren MP4-26 launch, Berlin, 2011
F1’s last car launch event? McLaren’s MP4-26 launch in 2011
Not since McLaren unveiled its MP4-26 in Berlin five years ago has F1 seen a genuinely eye-catching launch event. McLaren revealed their new car by piecing it together at the Potsdamer Platz, guaranteeing a blaze of publicity for title sponsor Vodafone.

Since then few teams have bothered to do any more than pull a sheet off their latest car at the factory. Force India’s proximity to Silverstone meant they were able to combine their launch with a quick shakedown run, but that practice also stopped a few years ago.

This has come about for several reasons. Few teams have wealthy title sponsors who are seeking this kind of publicity. The heyday of the glamorous launch was in the 1990s and 2000s when the sport was awash with tobacco cash, but the teams have had to make do without that (except Ferrari) for the best part of a decade.

The intensity of the competition between the teams has made them increasingly reluctant to wheel their latest machinery out into the full glare of the world’s photographers. In 2013 Red Bull tried to have their cake and eat it – showing off the new RB9 at their factory but refusing to let anyone take photographs of it.

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Part of this is inevitable. Teams no longer test as much before the start of the season as they once did, meaning cars can be finished later. And with everyone keeping a close eye on everyone else’s cars for innovations that could be copied, there is no reason to tip the competition off too soon by launching earlier than necessary. It’s for the same reason that many front running teams don’t bring their definitive aerodynamic packages until the first race.

The desire to control what people can see of their cars and the lack of budget for launch events triggered a fad for online launches. This too seems to be tailing off after a few high-profile failures.

In 2013 Mercedes urged fans to tweet a hashtag to reveal an image of the car on their website – a novel idea which was ruined when the server crashed under the load and stayed down for hours. Other teams also discovered that inviting millions of fans to view their site at once was not a practical solution.

Renault R24 launch, Teatro Massimo, Palermo, Sicily, 2004
Renault launches used to be flashier
Until a few years ago there was talk of teams co-operating on a joint launch event where all their cars would be revealed together. This promised obvious benefits in terms of shared cost savings and bringing the media to a single location. But the difficulty of co-ordinating the production of their cars eventually killed the idea.

Something akin to this ‘launch day’ concept has evolved instead as more teams now wait until the morning of the first test to show their cars to the media. Staying a step ahead of the competition is more valuable than the potential column inches gained by having a flashy launch.

To satisfy the occasional need of sponsors to have something a bit more glamorous, the ‘livery launch’ has begun to take off. Williams did one with Martini in 2014, Force India with their Mexican sponsors last year and Red Bull is holding one next week.

But the full-on launch event has gone into the dustbin of grand prix history, joining everything else from the front-engined car to Flavio Briatore’s original face. No more Spice Girls unveiling McLarens, no more Sugababes showing off Saubers. Some may mourn it, but it’s an unavoidable fact of the ever-changing face of Formula One

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 40 comments on “The death of the F1 car launch”

    1. There’s worse things for Formula 1 to lose. Aside from sponsor exposure, what did it really bring to the sport?

      1. Kevin P Robinson
        12th February 2016, 12:37

        I think it brought a great sense of anticipation and excitement as they were scheduled and approached. I remember logging into AtlasF1 (and then Autosport) every day to see if a new launch had been scheduled and then log in immediately after the launch to study the details of the new car via the photos. I loved that experience and truly miss it.

        1. Oh my god, AtlasF1 (and original before it became official site)… That brings back memories…

    2. I just dislike the ‘morning launch’ of the first pre-season test as I use to work on a Monday morning.

      I don’t want a Spice Girls unveiling but just a 10-minute online presentation on a Satursday or Sunday with real photographies on the website.

    3. January used to be a little bit more interesting for us F1 fans. Now we’re forced to wait until late February…

      Aside from the dates, I suppose the biggest problem with those flashy launches is cost and the lack of sponsors. Look at that Renault from the Mild Seven days. Take away the tobacco sponsorship, and the car still has more big sponsors than the Ferrari currently has. i-Mode, Telefonica, Elf, Hanjin cover huge spaces in the car, not just a tiny little sticker. So they had more incentive to launch their cars properly as marketing tool.

      They used to invest big money on covering the whole car with sponsors, and they appeared proudly in there. Nowadays, only the Williams has a full on sponsor inspired livery, and even so, it has big white patches uncovered.

      1. January used to be a little bit more interesting for us F1 fans.

        And November used to be a bit less interesting as the season ended in October. I’m okay with this kind of switch.

    4. joining everything else from the front-engined car to Flavio Briatore’s original face.

      Laughed so hard!

      I miss the car launches. There’s so little to get excited about in the off season now, even the liveries are ultimately disappointing these days.

      1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
        12th February 2016, 13:51

        I also guffawed heartily lol. Not like Keith to be so unbalanced!

      2. That picture needs some kind of warning attached, yikes.

      3. Hahahahaha!!! You little b!tch Keith! Hahaha!! I did have to look a couple of times at that pic to wonder what in fact I was looking at!! Can we just make your comment, comment of the year already please? Xxx

    5. McLaren with a title sponsor … that is another F1 memory that is fading fast.

      1. Maybe this years McLaren will have Flavios original face painted on it and he will be the title sponsor. That will bring some of the past back and they do suit each other with the 2007 and 2008 cheating incidents being the worse in F1 history.

        1. If you knew anything about F1, you’d know that those probably weren’t even close to worst. There were far worse ones. First one that pops to mind is outright cheating with putting lead balls in the fuel, to meet the minimum weight or something like that.

          1. When and who did that? That is still not as bad crashing on purpose or outright stealing designs. Flavio and McLaren would suit each other, worst cheating team and worst cheating person in F1 history.

            1. Two things, from my faulty memory, but it should put you on the right track should you decide to follow the trail:
              First, McLaren’s transgression was hardly the worse in history for the simple reason that at the time investigations showed that also other teams were in possession of other team’s confidental data, but unlike McLaren they excaped punishment. It’s actually a pretty nasty story and there are several very good candidates for whoever lost most honour then.
              Second, there was a time when teams were allowed to fill in working fluids (radiator water, oil etc.) before the cars went for scrutineering after a race. Some teams hit on the great idea that they would race underweight, and after the race they would fill in the working fluid tanks with the appropriate fluids, but with lead balls mixed in. One team got caught and was rather severly punished, it was Tyrrell if I recall correctly. As to the year, my memory says something about the days when Tyrrell was still running atmospheric engine while top teams already passed to turbos (which are heavier, that’s why Tyrrell’s car was substantially lighter and could use the trick). This should help you guess the right era. I think looking up the Tyrrell page on Wiki should get you the answer pronto.

            2. Other teams having others data was never proven. There was compelling evidence against McLaren that is why they were the worst along of course with what Flavio did in 2008. Tyrrell also were not good but for me 2007 and 2008 were far worse.

            3. Mclaren would of been fine if that had been honest about it. They weren’t and Ron’s crocodile tears at silverstone really back fired on him.

              Remember BAR at imola 05, that was down right cheating with the extra fuel tank!! They were running underweight for the first 2 stints and topped it up at last stint so it passed the weight limit. Well thankfully they got caught too

            4. @ph, you would be referring to the disqualification of Tyrrell in 1984, although in that instance the fluid which was being topped up was a water injection system (where water was injected into the combustion chamber to reduce the risk of detonation). It was an era where there had been systematic cheating up and down the pit lane for several years.

            5. @markp, Renault WAS proven to have possesion of a significant amount of data more or less at the same time / shortly after the McLAren spygate show was staged. They got no punishment at all.

            6. Renault again under the management of Flavio, thr same as McLaren in that era complete cheats.

              BAR cheating was one race as was 2008 Singapore but that showed a complete disregard for safety. McLaren 2007 cheated an entire season.

    6. No more Spice Girls unveiling McLarens,

      … due to potential conflict of interest issues on Mrs Horner’s part?

    7. The other reason that the F1 car launch is no more, sponsors aside, is the lack of development time afforded by the current congested F1 calendar. There’s simply no time to breathe in-between the end of one season and the start of testing for the next.

      I miss it as a fan but I also miss it from the perspective of the journalists having a first opportunity to question the team and individuals on the season ahead. Of course, there’ll be agreed lines for the media and much will be said without much being learned, but journalists pick up on the nuances and expand these over the course of a season.

      Fans, as will sponsors, also appreciate seeing a new livery early. It is one of the first discussion points of any new season, a bit like a new season football kit being revealed. But again this just shows how much time pressure each time are now under. There’s never any new season merchandise available in advance of the forthcoming season, and last season’s McLaren debacle was one of the worst examples of this in recent times. Imagine going to the first football match of a new season and not having any replica kit available for the kids to wear (even at the extortionate prices both F1 and football sell them at). It just wouldn’t happen.

      Teams could do so much more if they wanted to, but it appears that a lack of will and available time prevail season after season. And the fans are the ones to miss out.

      1. + 1

        I thought it was just a matter of not having the time these days between the end of season and the start of testing. Quite a few teams only just get their car built in time. Others won’t even be ready by first test.

    8. I used to love the car launches and waited for them with great anticipation. However as the rules became more restrictive and the cars started looking more and more alike the first view of the cars has lost a lot of it’s appeal. I still like seeing the liveries for the first time, but it doesn’t compare to how I enjoyed the car launches.

      1. F1 car launches are truly finished finished.

    9. I think it’s wrong that the full-on launches are going into the dustbin.
      Especially now we need more flashy launches. F1 has become a much more complex sport than yesteryear with engines replaced by PU’s and constant rule-changes which require a PhD in Latin Brain-surgery on a Rocket-ship to understand.

      If only there were team events at least once a year where your average fan could enjoy in awe what the sport has to offer. That’s how you build and extend your fan-base.
      One of most shared items during the past months was Verstappen in a RedBull on the slopes. People love it, and it raises the profile of F1. They don’t even care that he didn’t buy a lift pass.

    10. I miss the launches! It used to make the lean months of January and February bearable until testing started. Fair enough they don’t have to have anything lavish, but a reveal of the car from the factory with pictures would be great. Now the anticipation and excitement of new cars and liveries is gone, and with it some of the anticipation and excitement for the new season. F1 and the teams really don’t know how to promote themselves anymore. Yes the Renault one may not be the actual car and livery…but at least they did SOMETHING. F1 is no longer for the fans, its just for big corporations and business, accountants and dividends, corporate image and pleasing sponsors. These words have replaced ones like excitement and anticipation, passion and love, mavericks and gladiators, hero’s and villains. The only positive news so far is that Guy Martin will have something to do with the C4 coverage here in the UK. Other than that, meh, meh and more meh

    11. I don’t miss the launches at all. Even in testing we don’t see the real aero until right at the end, so I don’t see the point. Save the money, spend it on streaming testing times please, teams.

    12. Whilst it wasn’t a public event, you’d have to say that the unveiling of the MP4-28 in 2013 was in fact the last launch event. Streamed online as an innovative mobile display of McLaren’s most iconic cars that culminated in an unveiling, it was a thoroughly enjoyable celebration of McLaren’s 50th anniversary.

      1. I think that was as much a plea for a sponsor as it was a celebration of history :)

    13. If unlimited testing was brought back teams would have their cars ready earlier to test as much as possible before the season and January would not be as boring. Of course this is not possible despite their being 4 or 5 teams that can afford it as F1 as to adhere to the lowest common denominator teams in the name of costs and fans get less to see.

      1. markp, even in the past when testing was unlimited, January wasn’t normally that active anyway given that the climatic conditions tend to be fairly unrepresentative of the conditions that would normally be experienced during the rest of the season. Even Ferrari would normally have shut down Fiorano due to the weather – a few years ago, Ferrari had planned to do a shakedown test at Fiorano on the back of their launch, but that had to be abandoned because the circuit was under about half a metre of snow.

        1. They can test in Bahrain if European weather is an issue?

    14. I think the joint car-launch would’ve been a great idea. Ferrari could have a ring of men in red pit-crew uniforms surrounding their car and sneering at the media. Bernie could bring along a bunch of Mid-East oil barons, and they could all wander around in a pack…..

    15. Car launches were important to me in the nineties and early noughties when I had no permanent access to the Internet and could not buy any motorsport magazines in my country either so the news on those car launches on TV were basically the only connection to F1 during the long off-season.

      Nowadays we can get so much information via social media, blogs and news websites every day that high-profile car launches are probably not necessary anymore. It would be nice if pictures and videos of the teams’ new cars were revealed on different days but I do not really miss the glamorous presentations from the past.

    16. Here is a thought regulation on-line launches one a day every day in the build up to the first test based on previous years WCC for example this year launches would be,
      Mercedes – 11/2
      Ferrari – 12/2
      Williams – 13/2
      Red Bull – 14/2
      Force India – 15/2
      Renault – 16/2
      Torro Rosso – 17/2
      Sauber – 18/2
      McLaren – 19/2
      Manor – 20/2
      Hass – 21/2

      what do you think? after all the FIA like regulation for regulation sake the whole helmet design saga springs to mind.

    17. McLaren’s launch in 2011 was what got me interested in car launches. My lasting memory is how fascinating it was them assembling the car and how unique the design was with the U shaped side pods.

      To be honest before then I just watched the races, and if it was at unsociable hours I’d catch the results later. Watching that launch was what tipped me towards enthusiast status as the developments side of F1 really intrigued me. I didn’t just watch convenient races I started watching qualifying and race build ups as well. Come 2012 I was ready for all the launches, watching pre-season testing, practice sessions the lot. I’d been hooked.

      I think they under estimate the appeal these launches have in captivating a passing fan and turning them into a F1Fanatic and their scaling back can surely only hurt growing and developing the future fan base.

    18. In 35 years or so of following F1 I’ve never gone out of my way to soak up a car launch. The events have always been PR exercises of dubious quality and questionable tastes and add nothing to the sport whatsoever.

      In just a few weeks the season will be under way and we will see the cars where it matters; on track.

    19. I think fia must create a rule that every team have to launch their cars at different countries. And Bernie must pay. F1 can be loved more with this style.

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