04 May 2020 · Dennis Schmidt

Interview with Renault F1 Designer Chris Burnham

While the Renault DP World F1 team has performed rather below expectations in the past year, their design team has definitely shown world-class work so far – not least creating a livery that will go into its fourth year once the 2020 season will finally get underway. One of the team's members is Chris Burnham who's been with the team for about six years now.


Six years – that's actually longer than the current version of Renault's Formula One project exists. This started in 2016, but Chris joined the Lotus F1 Team in 2014 and then transitioned to become part of Renault's design team – which is ironic since Lotus is both Renault's predecessor as well as successor, but that's a story for a different website.


First Racing Memories

His first motorsport memories date back to the timeframe between 1997 and 1999. While Chris isn't exactly sure which one came first, the one surrounding the World Rally Championship is certainly a memorable one. ”My town would host a special stage of Rally GB at the local race course, and me and my dad would walk up there, past snarling WRC cars stuck in traffic on roads I travelled all the time. It was surreal.“


University

The job at Lotus was actually Chris' first gig in motorsports. Prior to that, he's been in university without even being aware that you could make a career in design. ”I wasn’t great at art in the traditional sense so I didn’t go down a creative route at school particularly. In my first year of uni, the course I was doing had a graphic design element and I realised it was exactly what I wanted to do! So I convinced the graphic design course leader to let me on, with no real portfolio, and I worked really hard to catch up to everyone else’s level.“

Alongside the traditional two-dimensional graphic design, Chris also made his first steps into other areas like video and animation as well as game and 3D design. All of this helped him later down the line as he explains: ”It gave me a basic understanding of a lot of areas, so now I’m able to pick them up a little quicker, which has been useful as I’ve been doing a lot of motion graphics and 3D.“

It's the sort of environment where you need to be passionate or interested in some way, otherwise it'll quickly burn you out.


Additional to the work in Formula One, Chris has also designed the liveries, driver suits and other elements of the Renault e.dams Formula E team.

However, at that time – despite being a motorsport fan – Chris didn't see the connection between design and racing. It was only when he saw the job advertisement at Lotus F1 that becoming a designer in the field of motorsport crossed his mind. “I literally just saw a job advert and decided to go for it! Apparently my interest in motorsport helped a lot, as it's the sort of environment where you need to be passionate or interested in some way, otherwise it'll quickly burn you out. Plus, I did have one or two self-initiated projects or uni projects in my portfolio relating to motorsport.“


Formula One

Chris started at Lotus F1 in the middle of the 2014 season. His first project was to create fact files for journalists to hand out information about the upcoming races but not long after his start, it came the time to prepare for the 2015 campaign – focussing on the livery, driver overalls, team kit, trucks, general branding, and so on. ”It was really cool to be part of that and see how it all influenced each other. Being part of a two man team meant I got to have some pretty cool experiences in that first year or so.“

Things changed the coming year though when it was announced that Lotus would turn into Renault for 2016. Obviously being an operation with a much higher budget, Renault started growing the whole staff including the design team. ”When Renault came in, a Head of Brand and Identity was introduced (shoutout Christian Clogger!), and later on we added an intern (another shoutout, this time to the world famous Sean Bull). Of course we also have more people involved in the design process from a senior management point of view now we're part of a large corporation.“


It brings new creative challenges, but it certainly made a change in how we worked.

One of the biggest impacts on the daily work was changing from working with their own styleguide to applying with Renault Sport's corporate guidelines that have of course existed long before the Formula One programme. “We went from essentially making the rules ourselves to having to follow corporate guidelines that were already in place.“ Since then, the Renault F1 Team has gone on to develop a sub-identity which enables them to further shape the brand. ”It brings new creative challenges, but it certainly made a change in how we worked.“


Renault Sport & Freelance Work

Working for a corporation that has branches in all kinds of motorsport made forays into other racing categories possible. For the 2016/17 Formula E season for example, Chris designed the livery, driver suits and more elements for the Renault e.dams team. ”I'm still proud of the work I did for the Formula E team, and it was fun working with the Formula Renault Eurocup series to design their podium.“


“We're always looking to have some fun with new things and create new opportunities to be creative.“

Working at Renault further gives Chris the chance to grow as a designer by being given the freedom to try out new things. Motion design for example is an area he had already explored in his studies but picked up again in the last years. ”It's been awesome seeing how animations etc. have become a big part of the teams digital content and online presence, and also to see the improvement year on year as we keep pushing ourselves. We're always looking to have some fun with new things and create new opportunities to be creative.“


Apart from his job at the Renault works team, Chris also does some occasional freelance work – mostly behind the scenes. ”I've also worked with a few YouTubers and Sim Racers on their motion graphics, branding and stream graphics which is an exciting new avenue to explore.“

You want to be looking forward and trying to be innovative rather than using previously popular designs as a crutch.

His favourite livery by the way is the ”pink pig“ design Porsche had in the 1970s and revamped for the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans. ”It’s a very creative idea that was really well executed, and it stood out in a pack.“ Overall though, his view on retro designs isn't generally positive. ”However, you do have to be careful that you’re not substituting creativity with nostalgia because it’s easy. Also, I always feel like you want to be looking forward and trying to be innovative rather than using previously popular designs as a crutch too often.“


Share this article


About the author

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