Speed and Color: Graphic Design in Motorsports

Brandon Olsen / JANUARY 2022
Speed and Color: Graphic Design in Motorsports Brandon Olsen / JANUARY 2022
“Ask a child to draw a car, and certainly he will draw it red.” -Enzo Ferrari

Without color, distinguishing one race car from another at 200+ mph would be very difficult. Over time, color has become more and more integrated in the sport of auto racing. Some racing teams are known specifically by their color. The red Ferrari is one of the most iconic images in all of motorsport but, why are Ferraris red? In the early days of racing, color was codified in the rulebook. The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) established that the color of a race car was to correspond with the team’s nationality. French cars were blue, German cars were white, British cars were green (i.e. Aston Martin and Jaguar are traditionally green,) and Italian cars were red.

These rules were eventually removed, but Ferrari didn’t stray. Other than a few races at the end of the 1964 Formula 1 (F1) season where they ran blue and white cars in protest of the Italian governing body, Scuderia Ferrari cars have always been red. It’s this consistency, along with their history of success, that has made the color red and Ferrari synonymous.

“Ask a child to draw a car, and certainly he will draw it red.” -Enzo Ferrari

Without color, distinguishing one race car from another at 200+ mph would be very difficult. Over time, color has become more and more integrated in the sport of auto racing. Some racing teams are known specifically by their color. The red Ferrari is one of the most iconic images in all of motorsport but, why are Ferraris red? In the early days of racing, color was codified in the rulebook. The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) established that the color of a race car was to correspond with the team’s nationality. French cars were blue, German cars were white, British cars were green (i.e. Aston Martin and Jaguar are traditionally green,) and Italian cars were red.

These rules were eventually removed, but Ferrari didn’t stray. Other than a few races at the end of the 1964 Formula 1 (F1) season where they ran blue and white cars in protest of the Italian governing body, Scuderia Ferrari cars have always been red. It’s this consistency, along with their history of success, that has made the color red and Ferrari synonymous.

 

The removal of the FIA’s rules regarding color and nationality allowed sponsors to dictate car color. One of the more inventive sponsors was STP oil, particularly in their relationship with Andy Garnatelli’s Indy 500 cars. Whether it was the controversial turbine-powered cars of 1967 and 1968, or Mario Andretti’s 1969 Indy 500 winning Lotus, each was painted fluorescent Day-Glo red. The color choice made the cars stand out from the competition, but that wasn’t the only reason for choosing the bold color.

In 1971, “The King” Richard Petty was dominating NASCAR in his iconic #43 with Chrysler as his main sponsor. When Chrysler pulled out of the partnership that same year, the team was in need of a new sponsor. Enter Andy Granatelli, STP, and a $250,000 offer—a massive amount of money at the time. The deal was advantageous for both sides as Petty would get the cash he needed to run his program, and STP would get the brand exposure that came from being associated with “The King”. As they were wrapping up the deal, Granatelli made one last stipulation; the #43 had to be painted Day-Glo red, like his Indycars. This was a dealbreaker for Petty. His cars had always been “Petty Blue” and he almost walked out of the deal. But Granatelli made a compromise: the car would be half Petty Blue and half STP Day-Glo red, leading to one of the most recognizable cars in NASCAR history.
The removal of the FIA’s rules regarding color and nationality allowed sponsors to dictate car color. One of the more inventive sponsors was STP oil, particularly in their relationship with Andy Garnatelli’s Indy 500 cars. Whether it was the controversial turbine-powered cars of 1967 and 1968, or Mario Andretti’s 1969 Indy 500 winning Lotus, each was painted fluorescent Day-Glo red. The color choice made the cars stand out from the competition, but that wasn’t the only reason for choosing the bold color.
Television was expanding the influence of auto racing and, in turn, the reach of sponsors. The limitations of color TVs at the time meant that the traditional STP red came across too dark on television sets. The fluorescent Day-Glo rendered a more brand-accurate color.
Sponsors dictate the color of most racing cars, but what happens when a sponsor leaves? McLaren had a ton of success in the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s running the colors of their primary sponsors Marlboro, West (a German brand of cigarettes,) and Vodaphone. The team won drivers’ titles with Aryton Senna, Alain Prost, Mika Häkkinen and Lewis Hamiton during this time. After being known by the colors of their sponsors for decades—usually a combination of red, white, and black—Mclaren’s look had to change in the 2010’s after facing a downturn in performance and losing their title sponsor. For their “new” look, the team consulted the past. Bruce McLaren’s cars had a lot of success in the late 60’s and into the 70’s winning multiple Cam-Am titles, numerous F1 Grands Prix, and a pair of Indy 500 victories. All this, while sporting a papaya orange color scheme. So, in 2017, papaya orange made its reappearance on McLaren F1 cars.

The importance of color consistency in establishing a strong brand was demonstrated in 2019 when McLaren and their star driver, Fernando Alonso, attempted to qualify for the Indy 500. When the McLaren-built car was crashed the week prior, the backup car built by a technical partner, Carlin, was found to have been painted the wrong shade of orange. Alonso missed nearly two full days of track time to allow the car to be painted the team’s signature papaya orange. The team failed to qualify for the prestigious race on this occasion, but the events described above underscore the significance of color across the sport.
Sponsors dictate the color of most racing cars, but what happens when a sponsor leaves? McLaren had a ton of success in the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s running the colors of their primary sponsors Marlboro, West (a German brand of cigarettes,) and Vodaphone. The team won drivers’ titles with Aryton Senna, Alain Prost, Mika Häkkinen and Lewis Hamiton during this time. After being known by the colors of their sponsors for decades—usually a combination of red, white, and black—Mclaren’s look had to change in the 2010’s after facing a downturn in performance and losing their title sponsor. For their “new” look, the team consulted the past. Bruce McLaren’s cars had a lot of success in the late 60’s and into the 70’s winning multiple Cam-Am titles, numerous F1 Grands Prix, and a pair of Indy 500 victories. All this, while sporting a papaya orange color scheme. So, in 2017, papaya orange made its reappearance on McLaren F1 cars.
The importance of color consistency in establishing a strong brand was demonstrated in 2019 when McLaren and their star driver, Fernando Alonso, attempted to qualify for the Indy 500. When the McLaren-built car was crashed the week prior, the backup car built by a technical partner, Carlin, was found to have been painted the wrong shade of orange. Alonso missed nearly two full days of track time to allow the car to be painted the team’s signature papaya orange. The team failed to qualify for the prestigious race on this occasion, but the events described above underscore the significance of color across the sport.
Color is important at the motorsport event itself, as well. X-Identity recently had the opportunity to work with the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix, which, in 2022 will join Austin’s United States Grand Prix (USGP) as the second F1 race in the US. The USGP has a long history in the United States, running at Austin’s Circuit of the America’s since 2012, and at Indianapolis, Phoenix, and Watkins Glen before that. With the USGP being a historic and well-established event, how does the Miami Grand Prix distinguish itself from the other American F1 race?

Color is important at the motorsport event itself, as well. X-Identity recently had the opportunity to work with the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix, which, in 2022 will join Austin’s United States Grand Prix (USGP) as the second F1 race in the US. The USGP has a long history in the United States, running at Austin’s Circuit of the America’s since 2012, and at Indianapolis, Phoenix, and Watkins Glen before that. With the USGP being a historic and well-established event, how does the Miami Grand Prix distinguish itself from the other American F1 race?

While the USGP is branded in over-the-top red, white, and blue which is befitting for Texas, the Miami Grand Prix offers a stark contrast. Embracing the color palette of the city’s historic art deco architecture (and their beloved Miami Dolphins,) the race is branded in aqua and orange. From marketing materials to the track’s runoff areas, everything is bathed in aqua with orange accents. The colors, along with palm trees, beaches, and yachts, help establish the Miami Grand Prix as its own unique racing event.

Color has catalyzed stories like these throughout racing’s history, speaking to the importance of color consistency in motorsport. However, the principle extends far beyond the track. A brand’s failure to establish and stick to a color palette can cause frustration, or even confusion, for viewers. It’s true across all elements of branding; color consistency ensures recognition of a brand, and differentiation from others, in any environment.
Color is important at the motorsport event itself, as well. X-Identity recently had the opportunity to work with the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix, which, in 2022 will join Austin’s United States Grand Prix (USGP) as the second F1 race in the US. The USGP has a long history in the United States, running at Austin’s Circuit of the America’s since 2012, and at Indianapolis, Phoenix, and Watkins Glen before that. With the USGP being a historic and well-established event, how does the Miami Grand Prix distinguish itself from the other American F1 race?
While the USGP is branded in over-the-top red, white, and blue which is befitting for Texas, the Miami Grand Prix offers a stark contrast. Embracing the color palette of the city’s historic art deco architecture (and their beloved Miami Dolphins,) the race is branded in aqua and orange. From marketing materials to the track’s runoff areas, everything is bathed in aqua with orange accents. The colors, along with palm trees, beaches, and yachts, help establish the Miami Grand Prix as its own unique racing event.Color has catalyzed stories like these throughout racing’s history, speaking to the importance of color consistency in motorsport. However, the principle extends far beyond the track. A brand’s failure to establish and stick to a color palette can cause frustration, or even confusion, for viewers. It’s true across all elements of branding; color consistency ensures recognition of a brand, and differentiation from others, in any environment.

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