As the days count down to the start of Formula 1’s pre-season test running in Barcelona, fans will be eagerly keeping an eye out for the first glimpses of the cars that will be unveiled in the next couple of weeks.

Eight of the 10 teams have now confirmed their launch plans – all bar Red Bull and Williams – across the eight days leading to the start of testing on February 19, helping build the excitement ahead of the new season.

Of the eight teams with confirmed launch dates, five are doing physical ‘events’ to present their new liveries and outline plans for the forthcoming season. Alfa Romeo and Haas will both present their cars in the pit lane ahead of the first day of testing, while Mercedes is only releasing materials online following a shakedown run at Silverstone.

Team launches are nowhere near as lavish as they used to be. Gone are the times McLaren would wheel out the Spice Girls and Jamiroquai to unveil its new car in front of thousands of fans at Alexandra Palace (1997), or took over the streets of Valencia (2007). It’s no longer a statement from teams – more a formality.

But why aren’t launches like they used to be?

The most important factor is the changes that have taken place in the media and the general consumption of F1 coverage over the past 10 years or so. Fans will no longer get a first glimpse of what the new car livery or design will look like via magazines or newspapers, where events that ‘wow’ would have been more likely to gain coverage when competing against other sports. Everything nowadays is instant thanks to social media, meaning that from the moment the covers come off the car, the whole world can see it in a matter of seconds.

As a result, there’s less of a need for teams to put on a huge, glitzy show. The amount of coverage they will gain won’t be swayed massively by the scale of the event. A source from one team that has flipped back and forth between open launch events told Crash.net that it gained more coverage one year by doing a simple online release than the previous one where it had put on an event. Save money, save the logistical and organisational headaches, and still reap the rewards.

A lot of it comes down to timing. The teams do now try and co-ordinate when they will launch their cars so as to avoid tripping over each other. This year for example, only Mercedes and AlphaTauri are set to unveil on the same day prior to testing – February 14 – but have co-ordinated accordingly. Mercedes’ shakedown is set to take place in the morning, while AlphaTauri’s event at Red Bull’s Hangar-7 in Salzburg is set for the evening. Again, there isn’t the same kind of fight for column inches as there may have been in the past.

The purpose of the pre-season launch has therefore changed. Instead of being about making a splash or trying to gain as many eyeballs as possible, it can be more of a marketing event to impress sponsors and partners.

Racing Point’s launch in Austria this year at the base of BWT, its long-term principal partner and power unit sponsor, is proof of that. The team also made a point of unveiling its 2019 livery and new brand at the Canadian International AutoShow in a nod to its Canadian roots following Lawrence Stroll’s takeover of Force India the previous year.

A similar tactic is being used by AlphaTauri this season. Toro Rosso has never previously held an official launch, traditionally unveiling the colours of its new car online or in the Barcelona pit lane. But as part of the rebranding to AlphaTauri and adoption of the new identity, the launch event in Salzburg will be a good way to introduce itself and give a taste of what the fresh look is all about.

There is an argument for it removing some of the magic, no longer being surprised or stunned by what teams may come out with. Instead we’re left to make do with render shots or static pictures of the cars, or occasionally some shakedown footage of the cars on-track as Mercedes and Red Bull did last year.

And at a time when designers and technical chiefs are increasingly coy about giving away any technical secrets, a full-blown launch with the brand-new car is unlikely. Often it’ll be a case of sticking a new livery on last year’s car, especially between stable regulations, before rolling out the updated chassis in testing.

Commercial priorities have also shifted. We’re no longer in the era of teams swimming in pools of tobacco money that allowed them to spend big on frivolities like the launches. With cost control being a big area of focus nowadays, it is hard to justify spending big on a one-day event, particularly when the benefits are so reduced.

Ferrari is the only team that really appears to be splashing out with its launch this year. The team has arranged an event at the Romolo Valli Municipal Theatre in Reggio Emilia, roughly a 45-minute drive away from Maranello.

Ferrari called the famous theatre “the perfect setting to reveal Scuderia Ferrari’s latest car”, picking Reggio Emilia “because 223 years ago, this city was where the tricolour was born and later adopted as the flag of unified Italy”. Ferrari has made its Italian heritage part of its car launch and identity in the past, such as in 2011 when it named its car the ‘F150 Italia’ to mark 150 years since the unification of Italy.

Renault will nod to its French roots with an event in Paris, while McLaren is set to hold another launch at its factory in Woking, placing a big emphasis on fan engagement – a hallmark of the team in recent years – by giving some competition winners the chance to be part of the MCL35 launch.

For while launches may lack some of the glitz and glamour of the past, they remain one of the most important and exciting times of the year for fans – which is ultimately what it is all about.

Let’s see if any surprises are thrown up this year.

 

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