It was billed as the launch of Renault’s return as a full F1 car constructor. What we got was the awkward sight of Renault’s top staff ‘revealing’ a car which it quickly transpired was neither the actual RS16 chassis nor the livery the team will race in 2016.
It pointed to an increasingly obvious fact: the days of the high-profile F1 car launch are over.
Not since McLaren unveiled its MP4-26 in Berlin five years ago has F1 seen a genuinely eye-catching launch event. McLaren revealed their new car by piecing it together at the Potsdamer Platz, guaranteeing a blaze of publicity for title sponsor Vodafone.
Since then few teams have bothered to do any more than pull a sheet off their latest car at the factory. Force India’s proximity to Silverstone meant they were able to combine their launch with a quick shakedown run, but that practice also stopped a few years ago.
This has come about for several reasons. Few teams have wealthy title sponsors who are seeking this kind of publicity. The heyday of the glamorous launch was in the 1990s and 2000s when the sport was awash with tobacco cash, but the teams have had to make do without that (except Ferrari) for the best part of a decade.
The intensity of the competition between the teams has made them increasingly reluctant to wheel their latest machinery out into the full glare of the world’s photographers. In 2013 Red Bull tried to have their cake and eat it – showing off the new RB9 at their factory but refusing to let anyone take photographs of it.
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Part of this is inevitable. Teams no longer test as much before the start of the season as they once did, meaning cars can be finished later. And with everyone keeping a close eye on everyone else’s cars for innovations that could be copied, there is no reason to tip the competition off too soon by launching earlier than necessary. It’s for the same reason that many front running teams don’t bring their definitive aerodynamic packages until the first race.
The desire to control what people can see of their cars and the lack of budget for launch events triggered a fad for online launches. This too seems to be tailing off after a few high-profile failures.
In 2013 Mercedes urged fans to tweet a hashtag to reveal an image of the car on their website – a novel idea which was ruined when the server crashed under the load and stayed down for hours. Other teams also discovered that inviting millions of fans to view their site at once was not a practical solution.
Until a few years ago there was talk of teams co-operating on a joint launch event where all their cars would be revealed together. This promised obvious benefits in terms of shared cost savings and bringing the media to a single location. But the difficulty of co-ordinating the production of their cars eventually killed the idea.
Something akin to this ‘launch day’ concept has evolved instead as more teams now wait until the morning of the first test to show their cars to the media. Staying a step ahead of the competition is more valuable than the potential column inches gained by having a flashy launch.
To satisfy the occasional need of sponsors to have something a bit more glamorous, the ‘livery launch’ has begun to take off. Williams did one with Martini in 2014, Force India with their Mexican sponsors last year and Red Bull is holding one next week.
But the full-on launch event has gone into the dustbin of grand prix history, joining everything else from the front-engined car to Flavio Briatore’s original face. No more Spice Girls unveiling McLarens, no more Sugababes showing off Saubers. Some may mourn it, but it’s an unavoidable fact of the ever-changing face of Formula One
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