McLAREN HONDA

A LIVERY DESIGN STUDY

     I should start by clarifying that this is by no means official McLaren content. I did this, first and foremost, as a Formula 1 and a Mclaren fan. I also happen to be a branding consultant that started off as a graphic designer. The decision to start this side project on my free time came to me when two of my passions converged, F1 and brand visual strategy.

      In early 2015, their first year back with Honda as engine supliers, McLaren was set to unveil it's much aticipated new livery. On social media and internet forums, fans that were always nostalgic about the orange livery Bruce McLaren had flown in the sixties, started not only to suggest, but to expect that the team reverted back to it's genesis colours and to deppart from the perceived Mercedes legacy of the previous liveries. Fan-made orange livery designs that appeared from time to time in the internet, became more frequent together with others that mimicked the white and red Marlboro design. When finaly the first McLaren Honda since 1992 debuted it faced a lot of negative reception from both the fans and the media. They claimed it looked too much like it's previous iterations, only poorer and less creative. Others still associated their colour scheme to the team's previous engine supplier and other sponsors. 

     Back at that time, amid all the arguments about the team's racing livery, I remember reading this article in Autosport where Ron Dennis discussed the backlash of criticism over the car's colours and design. I've selected a few quotes from Mr. Dennis, according to the article:

"people were saying, why don't we make it orange - because that was the old colour of McLaren? "Well, I say, 'you just said it - it was the old colour of McLaren. Why the hell do we want to go backwards?

"This is the livery of McLaren. It has always been a combination of these colours - and it will only change for commercial reasons."

"It won't change just to make a few people in the company happier because they want it orange or they want it yellow."

"Yes we could change colour. Yes we could do something more daring. Yes we could do all these things. But give me a reason why?"

     Sounds like someone pretty sttubborn, right? But his line of thought actually made sense. More specifically where he states that McLaren's livery has always been a combination of the colours silver, black and red. Yes, if you look carefully since 1997 when the team parted with Phillip Morris up until the daft, sponsorless 2014 livery, there has been a consistency in the cars livery design, the silver or chrome base, the black layers and the red accents. If you stop to think about it black and silver were never dominant proprietary colours in West Cigarretes packets, or any other form of their visual identity, as Marlboro's iconic red chevron over white were. They're mainly red, and the logo colours are black, red and golden yellow. It is true they do have the Silver variation of their product, and I don't know if that came before or after their partnership with the team. Either way, that livery was essentially a visual representation of McLaren's newly stabilished identy in combination with Mercedes' silver arrow heritage. The sponsor, in my way of seeing it, just so happened to fit in. And I feel the same about the sponsors who came next. When McLaren introduced in 2006 their new chrome base colour, you'll remember those red accents specially around and on the tip of the nose were still there. Some people might say that it was there because of the Emirates Airlines sponsorship. Maybe they were kept there because of it, maybe this stretch of consistency is a happy coincidence, but I don't think so. Then came Vodafone, another classic livery in McLaren history, but think again. Was that combination of colours and design really all Vodafone? Or Vodafone simply fit seamlessly into McLaren's evolving identity like their previous tittle sponsor?

     Still some could argue that the silver chrome base was a Mercedes' visual cue. Maybe silver was, and still is as you can see in the AMG Mercedes F1 team, but chrome is not silver. They later changed it to an all black design, but also removed the red line around the nose. And that was the single most consistent brand identity element in McLaren's liveries recent history. Anyway, my point is the team's visual identity was fully present in the 2015 car first livery design, it only was badly executed.

     The other thing I do agree with Mr. Dennis quotes, according to the article, is that no company should change their brand's visual strategy because a minority of it's stakeholders (Employees, shareholders, suppliers, partners, clients, fanbase, etc...) think it should, when it comes to this everyone has an opinion and design by committee seldom works. One of the pillars of a sucessful brand strategy is consistency in its proprietary values, ideas, concepts, visual and associative universes.

     I know this is getting a bit long. If there is anyone reading please bear with me and forgive any gramatical or spelling errors, english is not my native language.

    Now to the part where I disagree with Mr. Dennis' views on the livery subject, and sort of agree with the fans. Mr. Dennis said - "people were saying, why don't we make it orange - because that was the old colour of McLaren? "Well, I say, 'you just said it - it was the old colour of McLaren. Why the hell do we want to go backwards? - he also said that the current, at the time, livery would only change for commercial reasons. Fair enough, I will give one reason not only to change it, but to change it to orange exactly for commercial reasons: McLaren Automotive. Boom! Drop the mic.

     Seriously now. There is, it seems, a huge difference in how the F1 team, in Mr. Dennis' words, and the Automotive division marketing department viewed the role of their orange colour heritage. I'll try to be brief here, since the F1 team already hinted to the strong possibility of an orange livery for their 2017 car. If you look at this McLaren Automotive Visual Identity Guidelines document from 2012, in the sections named "Colour Hierarchy" and "Colour Usage" you will see how important to the Automotive division is the colour orange in their brand associative universe. This is wat it says about it:

McLaren Orange / Usage: Our Signature colour for McLaren Automotive.
It is used for highlighting important content and visual impact within documents / Attribute: Impact, energy and a link to McLaren heritage.


  Inside the booklet there are this descriptions for every other colour in their visual identity: white, black, dark grey, light grey, Mclaren Silver and two shades of Rocket Red - which it points out as the colour link to the Mclaren F1 team. You can also notice how central the orange colour is to the Mclaren brand perception by looking at the pictures from the debut of their flagship model, the P1, at the Paris Motor Show in 2012. There were two orange 12c's sports cars flanking the P1 concept, and even an orange Formula 1 car at the wall behind them in the stage, which was white with a big orange McLaren logo on it. Or by checking the livery of the P1 GTR displayed on their model line up in the official website - in which the most recurrent colour of the cars pictured is orange - or the 650s GT3 car presentation photos. Long story short, it is clear that this particular colour is often used and deeply linked with the Mclaren brand perception. At least by the road car division.

     So, hey! Isn't it a great commercial reason to change your F1 team car colours, in the lack of another paying tittle sponsor, to promote your own brand of sports cars? Isn't there someone doing this exact same thing for sixty years already, yielding great results in brand equity? Who are they again? Oh yes! Some italian company named Ferrari. I just hope this is the reason Mclaren is probably doing this now, otherwise I agree with Mr. Dennis, it would only look silly and say - "Hey look at us, we have no main sponsor to tell us wich colour to paint our cars" - like that time Williams mimicked their former Rothmans livery in 2012, like the ressurected Team Lotus did with their black and gold cars, like most small or defunct F1 teams struggling with budget were doing lately.

    Speaking of which, there is one other thing I do not agree with Mr. Dennis' quotes in that Autosport article, one that I left out of those listed above, the one that said - "So what do you do? Do you create an aesthetically pleasing design? But for what purpose?". What about for the purpose that McLaren is a globally recognized brand of a multinational company, a brand that could and should stand alone, the brand of a team that even without a major sponsor should not look like it is financially struggling or decaying, a team that even when underperforming relays the message - "we do not belong at the back of the field, or the middle, our place is at the front, this is only temporary" - finally for the purpose of not looking like a small team because it is not one, it is a household name in Formula 1. What I mean about the purpose of creating an aesthetically pleasing and brand defining design, even without a major sponsor or a bold colour change, is a design that not only does not depart from what has been done so far, but strenghtens it. A proposal for such design is showcased bellow, as an alternative to the orange based livery.

     Finally, I believe the McLaren F1 team should keep the Black and Rocket Red identity they so consistently built since 1997. And perhaps the Mclaren Silver chrome if they're not willing to recall orange as their core brand colour. But how?​ In this study of the F1 car livery, and therefore the team's visual identity, I've created nothing out of thin air. All I did was pick-up everything that was done consistently about the McLaren brand as a whole over the last two decades and put it together in a more cohesive, more comprehensible, relatable and ultimately more iconic visual identity. 

     If anyone read this far, fear not, from here on I'll explain things visually (mostly). So without further ado, I present my vision for the McLaren F1 team livery and identity.

McLAREN SWOOSH

     A very strong design element in the brand's latest products, the swoosh trademark has been incorporated into the car's headlight design since this aesthetic artifice debuted in the Mclaren P1 hypercar. It has become a proprietary design element and therefore part of the brand's visual universe. In the livery design, it mimicks it's aplication in the cars, where the painted body panels ends and shows the bare carbon fibre or black finish beneath. This is meant not only as a reference to the Automotive division, but the McLaren brand as a whole.

THE CONSTANT

1997

2012

2000

2008

2003

2006

2005

     The single most consistent design element in Mclaren's Formula 1 cars in the last two decades. The black layer and Rocket Red line framing the tip of the nose. In this design they've been extended and integrated to the swoosh design described above. The red line goes around the entire car, from the tip of the nose, through the bottom part of the sidepod and around the gearbox cover in the back, always following the edge of the black finish or bare carbon fiber mask.

A FINE TOUCH

     I've always felt that the rims design were overlooked by F1 teams and suppliers. Sure they're small but I think they could look better with some more creative design. Maybe even resemble road cars wheels from the supporting manufacturers.

WHY ORANGE?

     Clearly, judging by the sheer presence of the colour in the automotive division official marketing materials, it represents not only the past, but the present and future of the brand.

THE ALTERNATIVE

     As I've mentioned above the livery can still be interesting and relay a successful message even without any tittle sponsor or bold colour changes. Personally, I think this one looks better and more representative of the McLaren F1 Team than the orange one.

SPONSORSHIP

     The team brand identity was designed into the livery in a way that, when a tittle sponsorship deal is in place, even with a highly recognisable design from the sponsor, the underlying team design does not get overwhelmed, nor the sponsor brand exposure is compromised, as bellow demonstrated with a few high renown motorsport sponsorship designs.