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RB18 clones? ‘Fake’ reveals? What to look for as F1 launch season starts today

2023 F1 season

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With the curtain falling on last year’s Formula 1 season earlier than any point since 2007 – and the battle for the championships concluding long before the last race – this has been the longest winter that fans have endured for a great many years.

Finally, however, February hails the end of the drought for fans across the world. The floodgates open over the coming three weeks as teams unveil the product of their hard work over the off-season and show off the challengers with which they will do battle for the 2023 world championship.

But as launch season looms, bringing with it promise of intrigue, surprise and stoking anticipations for the return of racing, here are the trends, patterns and areas of interest to look out for as the ten teams pull the covers off their 2023 cars in the weeks to come.

Where’s the car?

Authenticity is becoming increasingly hard to come by in a world of AI-generated essays, convincing deepfake videos and anyone now able to pay for verification on Twitter. Formula 1 is no different, with teams jealously guarding the designs of their new cars to not give away anything beyond what is absolutely necessary.

Red Bull Racing 2022 F1 car launch
Red Bull presented a show car last year
As 2022 brought with it the advent of the radical new ground effect cars, teams were especially reluctant to reveal their interpretations of the new regulations, not wishing to hand their rivals any unexpected innovations on a plate before the season began. Fortunately for teams, Formula 1 itself had produced an army of generic show cars to demonstrate how the sports new rules would look in the flesh. Some teams ‘revealed’ their 2022 cars by presenting their new liveries on one of these show cars.

As 2023 beckons, expect many teams to do much the same again. Haas have described today’s event as a livery launch and Red Bull will also present their new colours on a model on Friday. Williams, next to launch, are also only presenting their new livery.

Expect other teams to hold back their most radical innovations until they absolutely have to run them. That was the case for Mercedes’ dramatic ‘sidepod-less’ upgrade last year, which appeared at the second pre-season test in Bahrain.

Ten RB18s?

Fans who decry the restrictive regulations of modern Formula 1 reducing the grid’s cars to minor variances of a theme were hopeful that last year’s new rules package could see some variety return to the sport. Thankfully, that was the case – at least for the early phase of the season.

Many teams introduced Red Bull-inspired upgrades
But as Red Bull slowly evolved from joint front-runners with Ferrari to the unquestioned alphas of the pack, dominating the championship with a mammoth wins tally, it was only natural that their rivals would divert their development paths more towards the solutions that the eventual champions had adopted. Aston Martin rocked up to the Spanish Grand Prix with a heavily revised car in the RB18’s image and refined it over the second half of the year to the point they were once place away from beating Alfa Romeo to sixth in the final round.

As hard as each design team in the sport works to zig while others zag, the reality is that the best means of emulating the performance of the champion team is to emulate their car. Does this mean that fans are about to see ten virtually identical Red Bull clones revealed one after the other? Unlikely.

But with a season’s worth of data to suggest that Adrian Newey’s team had the best approach to the ground effect concept, do not be surprised to see some very familiar shapes to the bodywork of these all-new cars. The big question is whether either of Red Bull’s closest rivals will swallow their pride, give up the distinct philosophies they pursued last year, and follow the champions’ lead.

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Colour returns (temporarily?)

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, Circuit de Catalunya, 2022
McLaren’s colourful MCL36…
Lando Norris, McLaren, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2022
…looked duller later in the season

Designing a Formula 1 car is a meticulous process. Even the liveries cloaking the mass of carbon fibre beneath are only finalised after a long and tedious process of approvals and revisions.

But the colour schemes fans were treated to at the unveiling of last year’s cars were not always fully present when it came to race weekends. In the vital endeavour to save every gram from Formula 1’s heaviest cars in decades ever, paint became a luxury, not a necessity. So colour gave way to dark carbon fibre as paint was stripped off from bodywork, muting the look of many cars on the grid like Williams.

This season, the weight limit has been trimmed to 796kg – a trimming equivalent to a two litre bottle of cola. But while teams will look to save the kilos through material means, the lowering of the minimum weight limit means putting away the spray paint cans will be a tempting prospect.

But as no one will be weighing these new machines on launch day, hopefully fans will get to see their new designs in their intended technicolour glory, if even for just the pre-season.

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Special liveries

Of course, fans can only gaze in wonder at a team’s shiny new livery if the one they unveil on launch day is indeed the design they will race with during the season.

Alpine sponsor livery launch, 2022
Alpine revealed a special livery last year
Over the last few decades, testing liveries have been in and out of fashion more than often than flared jeans, with the likes of McLaren, Red Bull and Renault adopting unique looks for the pre-season. Last year Alfa Romeo ran with a black-and-white camouflage livery much like the one first made famous by Red Bull, only revealing their true colours before the second test in Bahrain.

Alpine may have run their main livery in testing, but they still had a trick up their sleeve when revealing the A522 in Paris. In the city of high fashion, the French-owned team unveiled dual liveries – one of which being almost entirely pink in honour of their new title sponsors. That livery was run in the opening two rounds of the season, adding just a touch of variety and much needed colour to the grid.

With multiple liveries meaning more attention for teams and their sponsors, do not be surprised if more follow suit this season.

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Crypto crash

Almost fittingly for a sport notorious for being an effective means of losing money quickly, the last few years have seen cryptocurrency firms successfully schmooze their way into the commercial heart of Formula 1. Almost every car has featured the logo of a crypto exchange or NFT venture.

Mercedes rear wing, Miami International Autodrome, 2022
Mercedes sponsor FTX went bankrupt
But as the much-hyped digital currencies collapsed around the end of last year, many related logos may conspicuously vanish from prominent places on this year’s cars. Mercedes had to peel the FTX logos from its cars last year when that firm went bankrupt, owing creditors a combined sum running into the billions.

However, it would be far too soon to declare F1’s love affair with the volatile crypto market over. After all, Formula 1 itself continues to hold one of the most well-known Crypto exchanges as a major partner, while Alfa Romeo announced a prominent crypto betting firm as their new title sponsor for 2023 just last week.

Similar deals at other teams seem to have lapsed based on the disappearance of logos from their websites, but the announcement of replacements could be timed to coincide with launch season. The coming weeks will give fascinating insight into how much the decline of crypto may have affected teams’ sponsorships.

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Meet the new bosses

Vasseur is now in charge at Ferrari
Car launches are more than just showing off vehicles. They are also as much about capturing those all-important images of a team’s blockbuster signing beaming in their new overalls as they help pull the cover off their new car.

Regularly, launches become the first time that fans will get to hear a driver speak publicly about their excitement at their new surroundings. But this year, there has been as much movement on the pit wall as there has been between cockpits.

From Frederic Vasseur at Ferrari, Andrea Stella at McLaren, Alessandro Alunni Bravi at Alfa Romeo and James Vowles at Williams, almost half the grid is under new leadership this year. Three of the four have never held such high roles before. The unveiling of their team’s new car will also be the first time that they’ve truly stepped into the spotlight and laid out their goals for the year ahead.

Leaks galore

In the age of the internet, spoiler culture has become pervasive. Whether it’s the latest ‘AAA’ game release, a long-awaited movie sequel or even catching up on a replay of a big match you couldn’t see live, many of us hate to have the excitement of a big moment robbed from us by learning what happens before we get there.

Apparently, however, none of those people are F1 fans. For over the last few years, virtually the majority of car and livery reveals have been leaked online often hours in advance of their official launch – and fans have lapped up the unauthorised images.

With technology making it easier than ever to for quickly take and share images, teams are fighting an uphill battle to keep their launches airtight. However, it’s also just as plausible for someone to create convincing fakes to fool eager fans aching to see what their favourite team’s new car looks like. So expect to see some cars revealed long before their official unveiling over the coming launch season, but do not always take everything you see at face value…

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Making a spectacle

Previous car launches were lavish affairs
Back in the late nineties and early 2000s, launching a Formula 1 car was a lavish affair. McLaren famously called on the Spice Girls to help add some Girl Power to their 1997 launch, while Sauber roped in the Sugababes seven years later as teams laboured to stand out among their rivals.

Recent years have been far more muted as budgets have been squeezed. But not Formula 1 is enjoying a boom in popularity. What’s more, while much of the teams’ spending is restricted by the budget cap, marketing is not.

Much of that popularity growth has occurred in the United States, the epicentre of the entertainment industry. With more fans watching the sport, fuelled by the drama of Drive to Survive, it’s only natural that there will be more eyes on car launches than possibly ever before. And teams will want to put on a show for the hundreds of thousands who are watching.

Red Bull have shown their intent by arranging for both their teams to reveal their liveries in New York City. Open to the public, the launches could draw thousands of fans to see the reigning world champions show off the colours they will use for the new season. And with so many big celebrities in the Big Apple, perhaps we’ll see a famous name or two joining Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez?

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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  • 25 comments on “RB18 clones? ‘Fake’ reveals? What to look for as F1 launch season starts today”

    1. I can sum car launch season from the fans point of view in one word.


      1. I’d use fewer words than that….

        ” “

      2. Don’t use pointless. It’ll give Liberty an idea to award points for best looking car :)

        But yeah no interest at all in launches as there’s no way anyone will reveal their real car.

        1. Send a premium rate text message to vote for your favourite looking car! The winning team gets a championship point and a special DRS “beauty boost” to use throughout the season!

      3. I think, by now, every reasonable fan, already understood that those “car reveals” are mostly “livery reveals”.
        Sometimes not even the car that they land in Barcelona is the same car they race in Australia.
        The whole thing is not entirely pointless because it works as a media “breakfast”.
        So, the “reveals” finally allow for some “real” content.

      4. Or we could say it’s a clue about F1 being faker each year, which makes the not-really-launch season quite educational!

    2. “this has been the longest winter that fans have endured for a great many years.”

      … since 2020?

      1. We don’t talk about 2020

    3. Cue lots of comments over the next few weeks on how the livery is too black or too white or it’s the wrong shade of red. The inevitable comments on how fast a back marker car looks that will still be at the back. Then of course the inevitability that when the cars rock up for the first race, they will all look nothing like the cars that appeared at the “launch”.

      I get why they do the launches prior to testing to ensure everyone gets their little moment in the sun rather than all clamouring for media attention on the first test. I think the launches are more for their sponsors and partners rather than fans particularly.

      1. Arguing about shades being slighly off is way better than the depressingly gray/white grid we had in late 2000 – early 2010’s.

        For the past few years, the cars have looked fantastic, Red, Blue, Orange, Pink, I really hope teams get their chassis’ weight issues under control, so that they can afford to apply all of the 700grams of paint.

      2. I get your point, but FIA-Liberty had to get a “director of photography” to talk with those in charge of the broadcasting.
        Cameras are at the most advanced but sometimes one cannot distinguish a car from another, particularly in special lighting conditions.
        Simply put the colors seems muted. Not in a black an white sense but in a color blindness sense.
        INdycar has almost 20 different liveries but they appear clearly on the screen.
        F1 properly has less than 10 but, beyond being not being able to indicate different cars on the same team, cars from different teams dont look different on color.

    4. Earlier than at any point since 2007? 2014 Abu Dhabi GP race day was November 23, last season’s was the earliest in 8 years & thus the earliest since 2014 rather than ’07 as more than one season in the intervening period had an earlier last race day than last season. Concerning car launches, I don’t expect much from this either year, so I’m more eagerly looking forward to pre-season testing.

      1. I forgot to add ‘so’ after November 23.

    5. I have been waiting for Spice return since Christian found Geri..

    6. I’m a bit worried that we’ll see nine RB18 copies (to some extent) and an RB19 that wipes the floor with them…

      Is anyone launching their livery on something other than a car? The side of a cow, a machine tool or drinks container?

    7. I don’t really mind livery reveals that much. Liveries are the most interesting thing about these car launches anyways. The cars evolve so much between February and the first race anyways.

      I kinda like that we have this staggered reveal of first liveries, then the testing (since it broadcast now doubly so) where we get to see and analyse all the details on the car, and then a few weeks later the first race to see where they went with it. It feels like a whole month of Christmas, to be honest.

    8. Nothing wrong with livery presentations. Not only will the cars do the first test with a rather basic setup and change considerably before the first race, but if you had all 10 cars in grey I’m guessing few would be able to correctly identify more than half of them. For most, the liveries are the cars.

    9. All these pointless livery launches do is encourage ‘spec’ racing proponents. The faster they are rejected as concepts the better.

    10. Has karma gotten what it wanted or is Lewis going to be without victory another year?

      1. another mayrton loves Hamilton post in a non related article….great

        1. F1 launch season starts and we look fwd to what the season will bring. Within that context mine isnt such a strange question after someone first wins everything 7 or 8 years in a row and then nothing. I would say it is one of the key questions coming season. If he goes without victory again I bet this is his last season. My framing might be too provocative for sure. That is because I have not forgotten his antics yet and still havent got over his fall from grace.

    11. Ferrari tend to show their car at launches. They may have a few ‘basic’ or hidden versions of thing like the diffuser but in general it is the actual new car.

    12. Don’t mind me …. Yahhhnnnn….. zzzzzzz!.

    13. They should just rename it to “Livery launch” … if there isn’t enough of an audience for the livery launch.. then just assign the car launches in Barcelona a day before pre-season testing starts. At least the audience will see the real cars up close before they hit the track.

    14. Why can’t they make launch night a bling-blingy event in the vein of the VMAs?

      If all teams are bringing eye candy only, why not make it a party already? DTS fandom would happily hype up the preseason and some corrupt government would happily foot the bill.

    Comments are closed.