F1 in need of rebranding to bring back audiences

Formula One motor racing is gearing up for radical changes to its image as it seeks to reduce spiralling costs and inject some pizzazz into the sport, and designers are poised to reap the benefits.

An emergency summit of Formula One principals last week, organised by the sport’s governing body FIA, concluded that needless technology on race circuits, such as radio communication between pits and computer-led engine tuning, do little for the spectacle of the sport and are too expensive.

Graphic designers argue the cost savings made by changes could be used to invest in design and inject some much-needed excitement into the sport, not least to attract younger audiences.

‘Motor racing needs to be more entertaining,’ says Nick Downes, managing director of Interstate, whose rebrand of Ford of Europe’s racing cars is unveiled today in Monte Carlo at the World Rally Championship’s first rally of 2003.

‘The technology in pits is often arbitrary and plays no role in enhancing the performance value of the sport. Formula One teams have become so wrapped up in the business side they have forgotten that racing is about rock ‘n’ roll,’ he says. ‘Teams want more life and energy at a lower cost.’

Ford is seeking to make the branding between its racing cars and its consumer ‘performance’ vehicles more consistent and elegant, Downes says. The solution, ‘a non-radical evolution’, will be applied later this year to Ford’s performance cars.

Interstate is also revamping FIA’s website, www.fia.com, to try to communicate its role more clearly and include issues such as safety. The site goes live in March.

An important date looming over motor racing is the upcoming ban on tobacco sponsorship that comes into force in 2006. This has led some teams to start rethinking their long-term strategies.

Formula One team British American Racing last week unveiled its new identity, created by Birmingham-based consultancy Onbrand in conjunction with former Circus partner Tim Ashton, who was brought in as creative director for the project.

The group was briefed to deliver a solution that helps to distance the team from its association with British American Tobacco and potentially attract new sponsors. In response it shortened the team name to BAR to stress its growing independence from its owner.

‘[BAR] is investing early on in its brand,’ says Onbrand managing director Rebecca Battman. She describes the branding as less of a logo, more a ‘representation of BAR with a logo mapped into its environment’. Stand out is vital in Formula One, she says, where ‘myriad clashing brands’ all possess ‘complex relationships’ with each other.

BAR branding will be rolled out during 2003 to brochures, clothing, environment, livery and websites. BAR group marketing director Hugh Chambers says it has ‘laid the foundations for a three-dimensional brand proposition’.

‘Motor racing has received a wake-up call, and is at a particularly exciting transition time,’ says Downes. Designers could do a lot worse than pay close attention.

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