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Design in F1

Read: 5 min

Intro

This year’s F1 season will end this weekend. So this is a perfect moment to talk about design in F1. If you are into cars and design, then this is a read for you. We asked self-proclaimed F1-experts Niels Maas and Lucas Paulides from DTNL the ins and outs about F1 and Design. This article is a two-and-a-half hour stream of consciousness (and many more hours of research) compressed into this article. Enjoy.

DTNL is three friends who have one thing in common, love for F1. Just three hardcore F1 fanatics who know almost anything about the sport. Every Sunday they watch the race (some proclaim to also watch ALL the qualifiers, plus the training). When the race is finished they record a podcast, where they dive deep. No sponsored influence, no content for your grandma. Just unsalted opinions. They don’t cut corners (pun intended). DTNL has about 150 habitual listeners (which is more than UNID podcast). This is fine for the work they put into it, the unique content and fun they get out of it. Their motive is to have fun, not money. They don’t have people running their Twitter 24/7 (like Ziggo for example) which gets traffic flowing. They think however that the podcast market is very saturated, homogenous in content (the Dutch only talk about Max), and mostly surface-level content and that has no nuance. But that is the media attention bubble we are in I guess.

History of the sport

The sport F1 has changed so much over the 70 years of its existence. It is hard to imagine. The cars have changed, the rules, technology, media, and politics to name a few. Watch this video to get the adrenaline up and running and have a look into the history of the sport F1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbPOCRmpAzY&ab_channel=FORMULA1

In general the sport changed to be less about speed and more about entertainment and safety. From 1950 till 1980 there have been 41 deaths in 30 years. The sport has become safer and safer since the 80-ies and since then there have ‘only’ been 8 deaths with no deaths in the years 2000’s. Although the cars have become more safe, the sport has become a bit more like Mario Kart, with Formula e being an example for that. The pros of that is that it can be held in almost every location or city (like Eindhoven) due to low noise and ‘0 emission’.

F1 is the most expensive sport in the world and has a lot of money, businesses and politics involved. But the sport has had a breakthrough since Bernie Ecclstone formed the FOCA and has the TV rights. The sport has raced to another level with companies like Malboro and Shell pumping huge amounts of money in advertising. Company logos started to be added onto liveries. And that presence of companies in the sport has been the main driver of safety. We all think that people want safer cars but what drives that change is some company who doesn’t want their logo on an exploding car on TV.  So money is a big (although not always visible) driver for change in the sport.

The role of Industrial Design in F1

Building an F1 car is like building an immense puzzle. Every car is made up out of shiploads of tiny components that are put together on location, each designed in the highest detail. ‘Design’ here goes beyond the livery: it includes the graphic design of the stickers and spray paint, a unique helmet design for every race, interior design, the list goes on and on (and on). 

So, the big question. What can an Industrial Designer actually contribute to create such a complex business? Well, a lot of the rules originate from design principles to just make the car look faster. The lines are set up to create the illusion that the car appears quicker on TV than it actually is. 

Of course, Industrial Design is not the only discipline involved in the process. This interdisciplinary team creates the magic that provides us with those fast-paced races, quick action, and sleek looking monster cars. But sometimes this collaboration brings less fortunate designs to the table. The more fanatic F1 veterans must know what I am talking about: The notorious Whale noses. Introduced in 2012 by Ferrari (yes, one of the, if not the biggest name in the bizz) in an attempt to keep up with emerging design and stay true to the traditions of F1.  

Back to ID. Colors, we all love ‘m. They are also a big thing in F1. Apart from Ferrari-red and papaya-orange of the McLaren cars, we even got pink ones. Hey, at least you can spot them in Turn 1 when they stand out from the increasing darker color scheme of the majority of the cars. But it doesn’t stop with the main colors. Smaller details on the car are conscious design decisions that for example help identifying drivers of the same team (with almost identical cars) to keep them apart. This is why the camera on top of the car is plain black for the first driver of the team and bright yellow for the second. 

So what can an Industrial Designer actually contribute to F1? The answer is: more than we can imagine.

text bas vink

visuals alain van de ven

5 comments
  1. Vim Gunatilleke

    What an appallingly written article. Doesn't talk at all about the actual design involved in F1 and instead talks so broadly on multiple topics with no coherence. Arguably, there is alot more than just the "looks" and "colors" of the car that industrial desginers in the field are responsible for. This could range from aerodynamics and even part-specific design using innovative materials. Additonally the claim that the sponsorships are driving the safety of these cars because they don't "want their logo on an exploding car on TV" is completely unfounded. Finally, the article claims that it has been written after a "two-and-a-half hour stream of consciousness (and many more hours of research)" but fails to get its facts right - such as "there haven't been any deaths in the 2000s" when in reality there have been 5 (including Jules Bianchi in 2014) The conclusion is ironically indiciative of the entire shambles that is this article, and the reader is left thinking surely there is more to know about the role Industrial designers play in F1 than a lazy and weak "more than you can imagine"??!

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