The livery of a Formula 1 car is more than just a fanciful design exercise - it plays an integral role in shaping a team's brand image.

Not only do the colours figure prominently on all team kit, garage cladding, transporter paint schemes and marketing materials, but the design of the livery also sets the tone for the team's entire identity.

Product Designer Rob Taylor, the man responsible for creating and continually modifying the dynamic red, white and grey livery that appears on the Midland M16 race cars, joined the team in early 2005 and immediately began working on a conceptual design that would accentuate the lines of the all-new M16 race car.

Although it was officially unveiled to the world at the February 2006 launch, Midland F1 Racing actually introduced its livery late in November 2005, at a meeting with the team's sponsors.

Since its first public appearance at Silverstone Circuit that frosty afternoon, the widely-acclaimed colour scheme has undergone several modifications to optimise both its aesthetic appeal and sponsor logo visibility - two important considerations for any successful livery design.

"A good starting point for designing any livery is really to do some market research," explains Taylor. "Take a look at the competition, not just in F1, but other sports too: motorcycle racing, yacht racing - anything, really. The things you're looking out for are lines, colours and shapes that work; a livery that really sells the brand image of a team and something that remains memorable."

When Midland F1 Racing took over Jordan Grand Prix, a team with one of the strongest brand images in the sport, it was vital for Midland to firmly establish a completely new identity in order to move forward with its plan for the future.

"With a new team, this last point is especially important, as one of your main objectives is to make your product instantly familiar to your new market," he says.

To realise this vision, Taylor used cutting-edge technology to design, manipulate and view the livery choices that he came up with.

"I actually wanted to try and tackle the project in a slightly different way. You see, most teams produce their livery initially working in two dimensions: they produce side and plan elevations of the car, and try to project how the paint scheme will look when viewed from each of those angles.

"Often, they will then move on to a scale model or a real car to see how that paint scheme translates into reality. This is how we worked on our very original concept livery. But it's really the step to working in 3-D that is most important, as this is the primary proving ground to see how the design works from all angles.

"The 2-D and scale model route is thought to be a reliable and logical way of working, but I found it tended to cause more problems than it solved. Applying various solutions to a scale model is a lengthy process, and unless you have several scale models to work with there is no way to compare ideas. Also, working on a scale model is never truly accurate, and even working on a full-scale car makes it hard to see the paint scheme in its entirety and from all the necessary distances and angles. When you consider that a full-scale paint scheme can cost well into four figures, to have few guarantees it will work from all angles is not satisfactory.

"What I decided to do was produce a 3-D computer-aided design (CAD) model specifically for designing paint schemes on. It took some time to figure out how to create this model, as the flowing lines of an F1 car's bodywork are not easy to reproduce accurately. However, once I'd created a close enough representation, we had an available resour ce that allowed me to produce several finished ideas in just one day.

"The advantages of having this model are huge: we are able to rotate, zoom in, zoom out, change colours, finishes, lighting and then basically view each proposal from any conceivable angle or distance, all without spraying a drop of paint. The cost saving is huge.

"We found this to be a very useful tool for conveying our ideas. Quite often, we had what we thought were good solutions, yet when we transplanted then on to the model, we found that from certain angles the idea no longer worked. Using the CAD model, all of this can be done very quickly. It's very cost- and time-effective, and an excellent way of harnessing the creative process because it keeps the development flowing and fresh."

Even though Midland's livery design broke cover months before McLaren's, at the beginning of the 2006 season, English television audiences were frequently subjected to ITV's race commentary team of James Allen and Martin Brundle mistaking the Midland M16s for McLaren MP4-21s, and vice-versa.

As the season draws to a close, the duo rarely makes the same mistake anymore, apparently having devised an identification strategy based on front and rear wing colour. The confusion did, however, underscore the importance of not only having a visible design, but a distinctive one, as well.

"You have to establish exactly how that product is going to be viewed, as this again influences initial ideas on how the paint scheme should look," says Taylor. "Producing an over-complicated scheme with lots of colour breaks and complex patterns may look good in the flesh, or on a billboard, or in a magazine, because the viewer has time to look and absorb the information.

"On TV, though, the subtleties may be harder to distinguish. If you think about the camera angles, the distances the cameras are away from the track and the speed at which the cars move, it becomes very clear that a simple paint scheme will provide the team with a more distinguishable - and therefore effectively-branded - car. If handled in the right way, it should also create maximum aesthetic impact.

"It is, however, a very difficult task to design a livery that takes every scenario into account. For example, when it's side-by-side with the McLaren, our car looks very different. But from a distance coming toward you, the cars appear very similar. This is really down to the front wings being the same colour. Last year, we were the first to launch a new paint scheme and originally the front wing was white, so this wouldn't have been a problem. However, just before the first race, it changed to red because of a sponsor requirement. It's not a massive problem, but of course, we always want differentiation, so we're continuing to experiment with new ideas."

As a result of this experimentation, the M16s that race each weekend sport a strikingly different colour scheme and sponsor logo layout from what originally appeared on the car when it was launched in February. In addition, Midland F1 Racing has a fluid sponsor portfolio that introduces yet further changes in between each race venue. This is another factor that was taken into consideration when deciding on the final design.

"Sponsorship is an equally important consideration," admits Taylor. "It's important to remember that, fundamentally, the paint scheme is there to provide a service for all those sponsors that have paid to have their names emblazoned on the car. You don't always know exactly which sponsor names or logos will end up on the car, so you have to design a scheme that can be flexible and provide solutions for all the various options.

"Quite often, the conceptual paint scheme is really a separate entity to what you see finished and out on the race track. At some point, a balance has to be struck between aesthetics and practicality, as well as development of the car itself. For example, a line or proportion of colour may have to be adjusted to make room for a larger logo, or to fit the contours of a new piece of bodywork. The car evolves continuously and along with it, so too does the paint scheme.

"The development of the paint scheme is something that follows the evolution of the car, but on the whole, the changes made are usually very subtle. However, occasionally it becomes necessary to make a significant change. This can come about because of a sponsorship deal change, or simply because the scheme and branding gradually evolves so much over the course of a season that the original concept begins to lose its impact and clarity."

During winter testing, the public often sees images of various teams running next season's design ideas, minus the fancy paint job. Despite this visual anonymity, the finish of the bodywork is always kept shiny, with mechanics spending a great deal of time meticulously polishing and cleaning this spotless, albeit temporary, surface.

According to Taylor, that's because the fit and finish of a Formula One car is vital to its aerodynamic efficiency.

"The quality of the paint's finish is an important consideration with respect to the car's performance. For example, when a stripe is applied to the car, it's another few layers of paint sprayed locally over the base colour. This creates a difference - albeit a minute one - in the height of the paint levels on the car. If there is a discernible 'step' between paint levels, and depending on where that step is on the car, it can affect the air flow over that surface to the detriment of the car's performance simply by creating extra drag. Even if it's a fraction of a millimetre, it has to be addressed, because all of these fractions can add up to a noticeable problem. It's therefore important to ensure a uniform surface, and the painters work very hard to smooth out these surfaces as best they can.

"The shut lines - the gaps where two or more separate pieces of bodywork meet - are also painted with great care. It's important to keep these gaps to an absolute minimum, and the transition between two panels needs to be as smooth and clean as possible. If the edges of the paint work are square and sharp, then the two pieces will butt together with a cleaner join and help air flow over the car, as opposed to through it.

"When you consider all these details, and the fact that the cars have to be repainted on average every two races, it's really amazing that these paint shops can strip, repaint and finish a full car in just two days."

 

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