Ranking the Top 5 Formula 1 Testing Liveries

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2016

Ranking the Top 5 Formula 1 Testing Liveries

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    The 2016 Formula One season will officially begin on February 22, when the first of two pre-season tests gets under way at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

    The start of testing is always one of the most hotly anticipated dates on the F1 calendar, with the new cars running in anger for the first time after many months of hard work behind the scenes.

    In recent years, the first days of testing have also provided an opportunity for us to complain about the appearance of the cars, with many teams now opting for dark, unadventurous and soulless liveries.

    But that may be set to change.

    Red Bull Racing and Ferrari recently unveiled revised colour schemes for the new season, while Renault are expected to run an interim livery in testing before performing a little cosmetic surgery on their car ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

    Scuderia Toro Rosso, meanwhile, will arrive in Barcelona with a blue car after team principal Franz Tost admitted the team faced a race against time to prepare their STR11 chassis, as reported by Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble.

    As popular as they may be, though, temporary colour schemes are often bad-luck charms, as the teams brave enough to offer something different in pre-season often go on to have largely difficult campaigns.

    From Red Bull's camouflage effort to McLaren's orange number, we've ranked our favourite testing liveries of years gone by and explained their stories, with our choices based on the style, originality and meaning behind each colour scheme.

Honourable Mentions

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    Williams often run a navy-blue livery in pre-season testing, and last did so in 2014 ahead of the announcement of their title-sponsorship agreement with Martini, above.

    As smart as the colour scheme looks, however, the very fact that the team use it every few years is precisely the reason why it misses out on our list. After all, isn't the novelty value crucial to any memorable testing livery?

    Prior to becoming a Williams driver in 1994, Ayrton Senna had a long and successful tenure at McLaren, where he won each of his three world championships.

    Come the end of his time there, however, the Brazilian had become increasingly frustrated by the team's struggles in finding an adequate replacement to engine suppliers Honda, with McLaren powered by Ford, Peugeot and Mercedes in quick succession following the Japanese manufacturer's withdrawal from F1.

    One engine they didn't race, though, was a Lamborghini V12, which Senna himself tested with a plain-white livery in 1993.

    Renault, meanwhile, are among the teams who feature in our list, and the French manufacturer have a history of producing test liveries, with Fernando Alonso evaluating a white-and-yellow car in 2002.

    Finally, Spyker's single season in F1 is best remembered for Christijan Albers' hose-pipe calamity in the 2007 French Grand Prix. But the backmarkers also produced one of the most striking temporary liveries of modern times, running a blindingly bright colour scheme in the early stages of that year.

    However, the team reverted to a more conservative livery after becoming concerned that the bright-orange colours were being confused for red in photographs and on television, per the official F1 website.

5. Red Bull (2004-05)

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    When Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz completed his takeover of the Jaguar outfit in November 2004, the colour of the car probably didn't feature highly on his list of priorities.

    Now with his own team to play with, having seen his company act as a mere sponsor in previous years, there were things to do, people to see, staff to hire and drivers to sign.

    So when the very first car with the Red Bull Racing name hit the track later that month, it was no surprise to see a very basic design.

    Yet for a brand synonymous with the big and the bold, an understated, modest livery was rather appealing—charming, even—as Red Bull's F1 operation began.

    The blue-and-silver colour scheme effectively made the car look like a high-speed can of the fizzy stuff as David Coulthard and Vitantonio Liuzzi—who shared the second seat with Christian Klien—prepared for the team's debut campaign in 2005.

    By the time that season began, the team had smothered the silver bits with the navy-blue colour that would form the base of every Red Bull car until the start of 2016.

4. Force India (2007-08)

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    The team who began life as Jordan underwent several changes of identity a decade ago, becoming Midland in 2006 before being rebranded as Spyker the following year and finally morphing into Force India at the beginning of '08.

    For much of their existence, Force India have competed in the colours of the Indian flag, with the standard green, orange and white colours being complemented by more aggressive shades of black and silver in recent years.

    But the team's greatest livery never even made it to the starting grid.

    After Vijay Mallya's purchase of Spyker at the end of '07, Force India evaluated a number of drivers in contention for a race seat, including Ralf Schumacher, Christian Klien, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Giedo van der Garde and Spanish racer Roldan Rodriguez, as well as eventual signings Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil.

    And the shortlist of seven each had the opportunity to test a modified Spyker car featuring a white, gold and burgundy colour scheme.

    Although the white and gold colours were retained for the definitive livery, the burgundy was replaced by red as Force India played it safe in their debut season.

3. Red Bull (2015)

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Most of us tend to loathe modern-day F1 liveries. 

    We often bemoan the lack of diversity, the lack of character, and we question why graphic designers—people of such creativity with such unique, individual ideas—all seem to end up producing the same thing.

    The same, however, couldn't be said of Red Bull Racing at the beginning of 2015.

    As their rivals pulled the sheets off their dull, predictable-looking cars in the Jerez pit lane last February, the four-time world champions simply lifted the garage doors and set the "CamoBull" on the watching world.

    Christian Horner, the team principal, initially told Sky Sports' Pete Gill how the colour scheme was inspired by a helmet design used by Sebastian Vettel at the previous year's Italian Grand Prix.

    With Vettel fleeing to Ferrari over that winter, though, that excuse didn't wash, and it soon became clear that the camouflage livery was used to prevent their rivals identifying the technical secrets of the new car—a trick often used in sportscar racing.

    Of course, it never made it to a race weekend—how could it?—but the fact that Red Bull's definite 2015 livery was arguably their worst ever only illustrated just how lovable the initial colour scheme was in its short life.

    Perhaps, though, it's because the black-and-white livery is still so fresh in the mind, or maybe it's due to the rather cynical reasons behind its introduction, but it would feel wrong to rank the CamoBull any higher than third—even if it did bring some much-needed variety to the pre-season pit lane.

2. Renault (2007)

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    Renault established themselves as F1's leading team in the mid-noughties, winning consecutive world championships with Fernando Alonso in 2005 and '06. 

    But as 2007 dawned, the French manufacturer lost a number of key components to their success.

    Having decided to leave the team just three months after securing his first title, Alonso made his long-awaited move to McLaren. Bridgestone's emergence as the sport's sole tyre supplier, meanwhile, saw Renault's productive partnership with Michelin come to an end.

    And the team's alliance with Mild Seven, which resulted in those highly popular blue-and-yellow liveries, was also consigned to history. 

    Yet the tobacco brand's exit only paved the way for an interim colour scheme that—whisper it—was arguably even better.

    The yellow Renault diamond remained, but the sky-blue shade of the Mild Seven days was replaced by metallic navy, which gleamed in the Jerez sunshine as Giancarlo Fisichella and new signing Heikki Kovalainen took the team's first Fernando-less steps.

    Alas, Renault's new title sponsorship agreement with Dutch bank ING saw the navy colour restricted to the front and rear wings, as well as the bargeboards, when the winless R27 car was formally unveiled as white, orange and yellow took centre stage.

    But with managing director Cyril Abiteboul telling ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson that the team will change their 2016 car's colour scheme before the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Renault could do a lot worse than using this once-temporary livery on a full-time basis to mark their return to the grid.

1. McLaren (2006)

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    Mention the name McLaren and two colour schemes immediately spring to mind: the red-and-white, Marlboro-sponsored cars of the team's glory days of the 1980s and '90s and the distinctive orange shade first used by the team in 1968.

    The latter is unquestionably—despite Ron Dennis' insulting suggestion, per Autosport's Jonathan Noble, that black, silver and red are synonymous with his teamthe ultimate, purest McLaren look.

    But in modern times, the sight of an orange McLaren has been painfully rare and, rather depressingly, has only returned for the "commercial reasons" Dennis cites as the main reason for refusing to bring back the iconic livery.

    When the team's relationship with Marlboro came at the end of 1996, Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard ran in orange before the definitive West-sponsored livery was applied for the start of the '97 season.

    And when the title-sponsorship deal with West also finished, McLaren brought orange back for one last hurrah at the beginning of 2006 when Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya, as well as test drivers Pedro de la Rosa and Gary Paffett, all took to the wheel ahead of the team's first winless season in a decade.

    That year was, of course, the first of the chrome-coloured cars, which—despite being aesthetically and unlike anything ever seen before in F1—were just not McLaren.

    Since the team's last title sponsorship deal with Vodafone ended in 2013, and particularly since they parted ways with engine supplier Mercedes the following year, there has been a clamour for them to use the orange livery once more.

    But through either stubbornness or stupidity, McLaren have resisted...for now.

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