When does the pursuit of marginal gains in Formula 1 start to literally chip away at a team’s identity?
It is a question that has been brought back into full focus at the start of F1’s launch season as the must-have accessory for 2023 becomes obvious.
This year, however, it is not a clever front wing design, a weird and wonderful sidepod solution or an ingenious suspension geometry that has caught the eye, but a livery trend with an increasing number of teams choosing to incorporate bare, black carbon fibre into their colour schemes.
The difficulties encountered by many teams in meeting strict F1’s strict weight targets under the new-for-2022 regulations resulted in some resorting to desperate measures, peeling off the paintwork in what was said to be an extreme but surprisingly effective method of coaxing performance out of a heavy and underperforming car.
And having seen their rivals effectively buy themselves free lap time last year, it appears some teams have decided to take the idea and run with it in the second year of the rules cycle in 2023.
The colours of new title sponsor MoneyGram granted Haas a licence to bring more darkness to the VF23 car, whereas fellow Ferrari customers Alfa Romeo have adopted what could be termed a mutant livery for 2023, having consistently competed with a fusion of white and red – Swiss precision meets Italian passion – up to now.
Williams, meanwhile, surprised some by revealing an almost identical livery to last year – Duracell battery roll hoop ‘n’ all – but given that they were one of the worst offenders in 2022 the FW45 may not remain blue for much longer now the bright lights of launch day have gone out.
And when the McLaren MCL60 is launched on Monday, it may no longer be a case of ‘orange is the new black’ but ‘black is the new orange’, the Woking team another to end last year with a very different-looking car to the one that started the season.
Certainly, when teams claim that the car we see on launch day will be rather different to the one that hits the track for the start of the season in Bahrain, no longer are they just referring to the aerodynamic surfaces.
Who exactly is to blame for this trend of exposed carbon fibre on Formula 1 cars, you ask?
Look no further than Nico Rosberg, the 2016 World Champion who since his retirement has credited his use of a plain black helmet – decorated only by personal and team sponsor logos – as one of the secrets to his success against Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes.
Needs must? Nico certainly thought so, yet the spread into the teams themselves raises an interesting engineering-versus-marketing debate.
With car liveries at the very heart of a team’s corporate identity – given far more thought than the concept livery kings of social media would ever give them credit for – are some things better left alone in the endless pursuit of performance?
Now the carbon fibre look is becoming de rigueur across the pit lane, we eagerly await the first bright spark team boss to point out – without a hint of irony – that modern liveries are too dull, too dark, too similar and need more colour.
Round and round in circles we go…