23 October 2019 · Dennis Schmidt

Do all Formula E liveries look the same?

Since Nissan have unveiled their Formula E livery on Monday, there's been a bit of a debate. Four out of the eleven teams' liveries that were presented so far are predominantly red, white and black. This prompted some to point out that the cars are unsatisfyingly similar. We've taken a look on why that is – and if that even is true at all.


The trend of having a more or less uniform grid is not new – especially to Formula E itself. The 2018/19 season for example saw the two liveries of Jaguar and HWA appear very similar. Also for some years now, there's been the impression that apparently LMP1 cars in WEC are kind of required to be red, white and black.

Generally, that colour combination isn't very rare. In colour theory and psychology, red is perceived as the most aggressive and noticeable colour. This is especially powerful when it stands against hueless colours like grey, black and white. That is likely one reason why this colour scheme is sometimes the obvious choice when it comes to racing colours. Just look at the Formula 1 logos – past or present – for example.
On this year's Formula E grid, you can even prove that with a bit of data. Looking at the following graphic, the dominance of red, white and black becomes quite apparent.

Even in Formula 1, red, black and white are the most common colours on liveries as this graph from Chain Bear F1 shows. 2008 has been a terrible year for F1 liveries, by the way.


We need to look beyond just seeing colour and appreciate the designs and distinctions for each

The similarities among Formula E liveries have sparked some mixed reactions and actually a little bit of a discussion on social media. While some are bored by the sameness of the cars, others (mostly designers) defend the teams.


To understand what's going on, let's first have a look why liveries look the way they do in the first place. In most cases, colour schemes are defined by sponsors. Think of Gulf, Martini and Marlboro – all the cars these companies have sponsored came with their respective colour scheme.
The same is generally true for Formula E, although the all-electric racing series is much heavier dominated by manufacturer teams. Basically, all teams in Formula E with the exception of Dragon, Venturi and Virgin are works teams. As a consequence, these liveries are dictated by their respective Branding and Marketing departments rather than sponsors. This applies to some teams (like Mercedes and Audi) more than to others (like DS Techeetah).

Four of those teams come in very similar colour schemes: Audi, Porsche, Mahindra and Nissan. All of them are works teams and thus their colour schemes are not primarily defined by sponsors. That being said, all liveries except Nissan's do have significant sponsorship impact on their designs: Audi includes some Schaeffler-Green, Porsche Vodafone-Red and Mahindra in fact two different shades of blue from their partners ZF and Renesas.


Can this be avoided?

As designer Sean Bull describes very well: ”Teams aren’t going to share their biggest marketing asset with the others in advance just so they don’t all have similar looks.“
That of course is a very valid argument. Racing teams – especially manufacturer-backed ones – spend big amounts of money on having the one car on the grid. Also, the general livery idea is being decided on months before the liveries are eventually unveiled. Small things might be tweaked on short notice, but sponsorship deals have already been in place way in advance.
Therefore, it's impossible for teams to react to what others have done. With 12 cars fighting for attention, there are always going to be overlaps. After all, there are only so many colours in this world.

Fans are neither designers nor marketing people. They just want to see good-looking racing cars.

But in the end, all this effort is mostly directed at one audience only: the racing fans – be it directly through the team itself or indirectly through their business partners. If this audience complains that the designs are too similar – as exaggerated as that might be – it kind of shows that something isn't quite working out perfectly. After all, most of them are neither designers nor marketing people. They just want to see good-looking racing cars and be able to identify their favourite car on track at a glance – rather than examine it from all sides, take a peak at the helmet beneath the halo and read the logo on the sidepod.

Let's be honest: all in all this probably isn't that big a deal. The liveries are by and large still different enough to be told apart on track and TV and if all things go wrong, this situation will hopefully only last one year. Then again, looking at the Nissan and Porsche cars, we can't help but wonder if they maybe are a little bit too similar? 🤔

What's your take on the whole matter? Tweet us your view @btwnracinglines.


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About the author

me

Dennis Schmidt is a graphic and UI/UX designer as well as motor racing enthusiast from Hamburg, Germany.