The Path of Racing Liveries

We all have our favorite racing liveries. As of late, there's been a resurgence of historical liveries being refreshed and re-used -- just like some car designs. The visual graphic designs for race cars have become such an important component to enthusiasts, there are people that create liveries and racing graphics as a full time job. Even Camilo Pardo, chief designer of the modern-day Ford GT, has a side business just applying liveries to customers that bought his GT.

In international racing, liveries as a form of commercial sponsorship didn't begin in earnest until 1968, the first year Formula One allowed unrestricted sponsorship. But we'll come back to that.

Bleu de France on a 1938 Delahaye

Prior to sponsor-based liveries, the most common practice in international racing was to paint cars in the standardized racing colors that indicated the nationality of the car, or sometimes the driver. The colors have their origin in the national teams competing in the Gordon Bennett Cup, which was held annually from 1900 to 1905. Count Eliot Zborowski, father of inter-war racing legend Louis Zborowski, suggested that each national entrant be assigned a different colour. The first competition in 1900 defined blue to France, yellow to Belgium, white to Germany and red to the United States. While Italy is known to this day as the country that sports red as it's national racing color, it did not adopt its famous 'Racing Red' until a red Itala won the Peking to Paris race in 1907.

When Britain first competed in 1902, all it's national colors of red, white and blue had already been allocated. The Brit Selwyn Edge's car was painted olive green. Green was well-established as an appropriate color for locomotives and machinery, in which Britain had led the world during the previous century. When Britain hosted the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup the following year in Ireland, the British adopted Shamrock green which later evolved into various shades of 'British racing green'.

Colors were affirmed in the inter-war period of Grand Prix racing by the AiACr (the predecessor of the FIA), when the Bleu de France Bugattis and theRosso Corsa Alfa Romeos of Italy won many races, while the British racing green Bentleys dominated the Le Mans Grand Prix d'Endurance until 1930.

In the 1930s the Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union teams did not apply the traditional German white paint, rather leaving their sheet metal uncovered. This gave rise to the term Silver Arrows. The initial belief was this was done for weight savings, but the practice pre-dated weight restrictions by two years. Instead it is believed that the bare metal better mimicked the more advanced aircraft industry.

British Racing Green adorns this gorgeous Aston Martin DBR-1

Post-war colors were defined more specifically, in terms of body, hood, chassis, numbers and their backgrounds. When the chassis was no longer exposed, the color assigned to it was showed in various ways. The parallel blue stripes of the Cunningham team and other US teams in the 1950s are thought to be the earliest examples of what we often think of today as 'racing stripes'. In the 1950s and 1960s Porsche also retained the silver, although other German teams in the 1960s (such as BMW) returned to white paint.

Which brings us back to the introduction of significant corporate sponsorship in 1968. The first example being the red, gold and white colors that appeared on the Lotus 49. Those colors, which are now synonymous with Lotus, were actually the colors of Imperial Tobacco's Gold Leaf brand. And as we all know, things just grew markedly from there.

The liveries are usually changed every season, carrying the marketing ideas of the sponsors. Many teams keep some consistency over the years however, like Ferrari Rosso Corsa, which of course has its origin in the national racing red color of Italy.

The sponsor's name is conspicuously absent, but the brand still communicates regardless.

Interestingly, as tobacco and alcohol advertising bans increased in Formula 1, a few new paths were formed. One was the teams using an alternate livery which strongly alluded to the tobacco or alcohol sponsor, but while entirely eliminating their names in nations banning their sponsorship. The other path was to revert back to the national colors. Both practices are common today. In the 2014 season of F1, Mercedes is represented by the German Silver, while Catherham utilizes British Racing green. Conversely, the Lotus team uses the Black and Gold livery, defined in the 70s through their sponsorship by Player's brand of cigarettes made by Imperial Tobacco. Of course that is most well-known today as the John Player's Special livery.

There have been so many memorable liveries over the years. Share your favorites with us in the comments.