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INSIGHT: How to Design an F1 Car Livery

Designing a Formula One car livery is a monumental task for Mercedes, lasting over six months and including over 50 different design proposals.

A major element of the W08's livery was the digital flow

F1 car liveries are instantly recognisable. Iconic, in some cases. They're the main focus of a team's identity and brand image, so getting it right is a massive challenge and a significant, time-consuming process to complete.

For the Mercedes-AMG F1 W09 EQ Power+, the livery is very much an evolution of its predecessor, rather than a complete overhaul of the team's design direction.

A major element of the W08's livery was the digital flow, the sweeping, vibrant blue lines stretching elegantly along the side of the car. This has been stripped down to just four lines on the new W09 - each one strikingly representing the team's Constructors' Championship successes.

But, while it's not a radical change in livery, the process remains as detailed and comprehensive as ever. So, how did the team create this year's design?

'The livery design process starts in July at the Austrian Grand Prix,' explains Sam, the team's Head of Design. 'This is the first time we sit down and review the current year's livery design, both on track and off track, as well as studying the other cars and what the other teams are doing.'

'From there, we choose four different directions, which will then progress further into design stages two, three and four. The reason why it takes six months and we have four design stages is that people are working on other things at the same time.

'So, although the car is the main focus, there is a lot more design work - from race trucks to garage designs and factory posters - that needs doing for the team over the course of that time.'

And in case you were wondering when Toto gets a look at the car's livery design, he's embedded in the creative process from the very beginning.

'Toto is involved from quite early in the design process and he always has a look at the different proposals,' reveals Michael, who is a Mercedes-Benz Designer.

'We are also showing him some crazy and different ideas in between. If he thinks it is worth following one direction, we will do that. Through the whole design process, we are looking at approximately 60 design proposals, which then reduce to 30, 10 and the final one.'

The motorsport and production car worlds are very different

Communication and involvement between the designers in Stuttgart and Brackley is crucial, in order to bounce feedback off each other, see what is feasible and what is not - because the motorsport and production car worlds are very different.

"The biggest challenges are shape and proportion," admits Sam. "Michael and his team deal with the overall shape and design of the car livery, then from there we figure out the details and the finer points.

"Obviously, when we initially start the design, we're using a current chassis - which is one-year out of date by the time the final livery goes on. So, there is always room for us to amend the design after approval, to be able to properly fit the form and shape on the new car."

Alongside shape and proportion, one of the toughest parts of the process - for Sam - is doing designs that fans never get to see out on track. A lot of effort goes into other design directions, but only one will come to fruition.

From that initial meeting at the Austrian GP, the concepts for the W09 are gradually discarded as the options are whittled down to the final, finished design - which gets signed off by Dr. Zetsche at the Daimler board meeting in December.

But, what's next? From there, it's time to get painting! Sam explains: 'We work hand-in-hand with the paint shop, so the relationship needs to be strong. Because, if it breaks down at all, the design can be interpreted in the wrong way and what ends up on track could not be what the general intention was in the first place.'

The Paint Shop only joins the W09's livery journey once the seal of approval has been given for the final design, with everyone involved in its physical creation coming together to understand the shapes and lines of the car.

In early January, the show car from 2017 was painted, giving everyone the first proper look at the design in the flesh, and painting of the W09 followed at the start of February - to make sure it was ready for the car's big reveal moment, which took place at Silverstone on 22 February.

They're all pushing for one goal - to have the best-looking car on the F1 grid!

So, what's changed on the new livery design? How has it evolved for the new season? "It's generally based on the 2017 livery and the digital flow, but we stripped the whole graphic down to only four lines and accentuated them stronger," says Michael.

"We improved massively in terms of overall proportion and we emphasised every single line for better visibility on camera. The fading is unique to our design, we are the only people in F1 doing that and it's inspired by the core DNA of our design language."

The W09's livery voyage is a long one. Taking over seven months to complete, a whole range of design proposals (including some crazy ideas) and a hard-working team of people in Stuttgart and Brackley, they're all pushing for one goal - to have the best-looking car on the F1 grid!