With the first race of the 2019 Formula One season edging closer by the day and the first days of testing finally coming up, it's time for teams and fans alike to get all fidgety and excited again. Following the livery reveals of the last few weeks, Between Racing Lines spoke to Haas F1's Creative Services Manager Ryan Long and has been able to get an exclusive look behind the scenes of the work that went into the fresh look of the eye-catching black and gold Haas car, learning all about the secrets of balancing both a team's and its sponsor's expectations of a new livery.
Ah, the Formula One pre-season. There's no way not to like these last couple of weeks before a new season gets underway. Teams tease us with the first fire-ups of their engines, tech journalists rush to the keyboards to explain the all the details behind mesmerisingly small and expensive parts of front wings, fans get agitated waiting for the first couple of competitive testing days, pundits coronate the "most promising squad" long before the first green flag is waved.
And after months of anticipation, teams finally reveal the new look of their cars, forming the high point of every team's pre-season preparation.
From backmarker to podium challenger
Some elect to share their livery hours before the start of pre-season testing in Spain, others choose the more glamourous avenue and set up shiny, expensive and memorable "launch events". This year, the unoffical victory in the race to the first launch event of the season went to the account of the US-American Haas F1 team.
Though Haas' launch in London's Royal Automobile Club was relatively unspectacular compared to, let's say, McLarens's annual self-celebration in their fancy "McLaren Technology Centre", one thing became apparent pretty quickly: These guys mean business. After finishing eighth in the constructor's championship in their first two years in F1, Haas ended last season in fifth overall position, ahead of arguably more experienced teams like McLaren, Force India or Sauber.
This year, however, Haas is aiming for even brighter skies.
Indulging in Lotus reminiscences
Inspired by every millenial's favourite "new year, new me" motto, Haas has firmly set its sights on finally finishing on the podium this year. In the light of these new goals, the Gene Haas-founded squad chose to bring an all-new look to the starting grid in 2019. "We explored a lot of [livery] ideas, but I think in big-picture terms there were two basic concept directions: an entirely black and gold livery, and one that retained some light grey," Haas' Creative Services Manager Ryan Long explains to us.
Moving away from the traditional black-red-and-white look of the last few years, the new Haas livery made nostalgics reminisce about the memory of Lotus' championship-winning cars from the early 1970s. Because in the end, Long and his team indeed decided to go with the iconic black and gold colours.
Staying true to themselves
The fresh look for Haas comes after the announcement of a new sponsorship deal with UK-based premium energy drink brand Rich Energy. Describing themselves as "a premium and innovative British energy drink painstakingly developed and optimised over the last 6 years with leading beverage experts", the company is now looking for its international marketing breakthrough on the F1 stage.
"Like everyone else, I immediately thought of the various John Player Special cars."
"Like everyone else, when I saw the Rich Energy can I immediately thought of the various John Player Special cars. I didn’t want to completely mimic that, but it is certainly a cool benchmark to refer to. [But] this isn’t a Lotus or a JPS car, it’s a Haas car that happens to be black and gold," Long says.
How to juggle with stakeholder's expectations
Still, Rich Energy's influence is clearly visible. "At the end of the day, our 2019 car and their can have a lot in common. As a company, they were very easy to work with throughout the process. They had some ideas about a few details, and they had their preferences on Option A over Option B, but it was absolutely a collaborative process.
"Rich Energy is our title sponsor, but Haas Automation is still a massive part of our team. It’s a balancing act to make sure that both of those brands – as well as all of our other partners – get the visibility that they should," Long elaborates.
"This isn’t a Lotus or a JPS car, it’s a Haas car that happens to be black and gold."
To make sure that all stakeholder's expectations are met, work on the livery started long before the end of the 2018 F1 season. Haas' new look has been in the works since last October, with both Rich Energy and Haas' team principal Gunther Steiner weighing in at various points throughout the process.
Interestingly enough, the final design did not take too long to come together. "Compared to previous years, there were a lot less iterations this year. The basic direction never really wavered – and one thing I’m really happy with is that despite the dramatic change in livery for 2019, there’s still some strong Haas DNA there that we’ve carried through all the liveries each year."
The course is set
The VF-19, as it's officially called, is Haas' unique interpretation of F1's new regulations for 2019. With a new s-duct, aggressive rear suspension design, an interesting realisation of wastegate exhaust pipes, new mirror winglets along with the new front wing design, the squad will, as Rich Energy's colourful CEO and beard-in-chief William Storey put it at the car's launch, "aim at challenging [fellow energy drink company] Red Bull both on and off the track."
The team will attempt to do this high aim justice with a mostly simplistic livery that features only a few glossy, golden elements around the nose cone, mirrors, front wing endplates and engine cover. Also, the driver's numbers and logos of Rich Energy are kept in gold - all other parts of the car gloom in black and light grey tones.
Not all that is gold glitters
Especially the smaller gold areas eclosed to be challenging for the designing team. "Gold can definitely be tricky," Long explains. "We looked at a few different options and talked to some experts and landed on a choice that was not only a good match for the gold on the can, but also didn’t have too much of a reflective or chrome factor that could cause it to go too dark in shadow or when reflecting a dark track surface.
"The colours we landed on have a nice amount of metallic. The black on the car has a similar level of metallic as the gold and you pick up some gold in the metallic flecks of the black. I think in the sun the combo will look really good."
The (quite literally) dark horse
With viable pre-season testing results yet to be seen, it obviously still is difficult to tell how far up the field we are going to see the two Haas cars of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen this year. The well-funded teams at Ferrari, Renault or Mercedes arguably seem to be in a rather favourable position.
However, in the past Haas has always been good bet if you like supporting the so-called "underdogs." Pundits agree that Haas will again, quite literally this time, prove to be a dark horse in 2019.
So far though, only one thing seems to be certain: The US-American team has arguably one of the most eye-catching cars on the current F1 grid. It will undoubtedly be interesting to see how far up the field Ryan Long's cars can climb in 2019 and whether their swiftness in launching their car first can be converted to actual speed on the racetrack.