How To Launch a Formula One Car

James BroomheadAnalyst IFebruary 1, 2010

VALENCIA, SPAIN - JANUARY 31:  Robert Kubica (R) of Poland and Vitaly Petrov (L) of Russia unveil the new Renault R30 at the Ricardo Tormo circuit on January 31, 2010 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

It’s February, the beginning of a motorsports season (unless, of course, you’re A1GP, which you’re not, because you actually exist) F1 car launch and test season, and in this year more than ever, the strategies for launching a car are many and varied.

If you’re an F1 fan, or even a general racing fan, you’ll be familiar with launches.

They generally consist of drivers, and more occasionally team principal, pulling back a cover, normally of a colour corresponding to the car beneath or the sponsors there on, and revealing a car that looks like it’s been polished to the point just before the paint gets rubbed off.

We get treated to a tidal wave of stories and press releases about how the whole team has been locked in the factory over the winter, designers forced to spend Christmas poring over the front wing design, engine technicians fighting surviving on Pro Plus as they squeeze that extra horsepower out of an old block, simply to get the car finished on time.

Drivers will all tell us that they are looking forward to a successful season, no matter how badly they or their team did the previous season.

Then there’s the second part of the two-pronged attack: pictures. We will get to see the car from every angle, every photographer will take pictures of what they deem important and doesn’t have a security guard, or the omnipotent blanket of secrecy, obscuring it from view.

Normally these take place in some swanky setting in front of a crowd of those deemed worthy to witness the birth of a new F1 car.

However, this year's launches don't quite look like that.

Yes, McLaren and Ferrari’s efforts stayed within the normal template, as did Mercedes’ unveiling of last year’s Brawn GP car with some new paint on it, but soon the fact that F1 2010 is a little different reared is ugly, tightly budgeted head.

Sauber’s launch, if I’m going to labour (every single pun intended) the analogy of birthing, was the equivalent of a child being delivered in the car park of Lidl. The car abandoned in the middle of the Valencia track, drivers in plain white sponsorless fire suits, the car looking like a de-logoed BMW Sauber in initially grainy pictures.

The new Renault was simply wheeled out into the pitlane in front of some cameras while the Williams, Toro Rosso, and Mercedes (the actual car, not just a paint job) were launched on the first day of testing with only the briefest of photo calls.

Then there is the new kind.

The online launch.

These tend to be used by the new teams, like teenagers rebelling against the accepted ways of doing things. The first will come on Wednesday when we will log onto the Internet to see a new Virgin under the covers (again, every single pun intended).

Online launches look to bring normal people into the same league as the invited great and good. Now what you think of this is all part of the constant debate as to how the internet, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the ilk are parts of modern businesses, but at face value, it only seems to be a good idea.

The cost is surely less that the pomp and circumstance of the traditional launch (undoubtedly why it’s the new teams that are favouring them), while you still get the same end result.

You can direct what is broadcast to show your new car from the best angle (something that was sorely lacking from Sauber’s Lidl carpark launch) and hide the bits you don’t want anyone to see, either because they're really good or really bad.

You also can connect with fans, rather than journalists (probably another reason why it’s the new teams that are doing them).

In the end, though, what is the point of a launch?

Do they actually matter?

Can you honestly tell me the launch date of last year’s Brawn (not when it was masquerading as a Mercedes), or the first picture you saw of the 2009 Force India, or what Felipe Massa said in the launch press conference at Ferrari?

Do you even think that sponsors choose whom to put their money behind on the strength of who can pull a sheet off a car in the most photogenic manner?

Nope, what really matters is how fast the car goes compared to everyone else.

And don’t even get me started on testing...


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