Long before sponsorship became common in motorsports, and liveries became the norm, cars used to be painted according to their teams country of origin. We shed some light on why Ferraris are always red.
These colours were standard for both teams and drivers, and many of these colour combinations were not the same as the official colours of the country.
The custom in the beginning was that the colour was determined by the nationality of the driver, not the car. This changed later – the colour was determined by the country where the car was built and then the nationality of the team (even if the car was made in a different country).
Some of these colours have even evolved into part of the branding of some teams or even car brands. Other teams still use these colours in their liveries.
How Teams Got Their Colours
This began in 1900, at the Gordon Bennett Cup, a race in public roads between Paris and Lyon in France, where the first colours were assigned:
France was assigned blue, Belgium received yellow, Germany received white (though they did not compete in the end), and the United States received red.
When Britain joined the cup in 1902, the red, white and blue colours of the Union Jack were already taken. So they picked shamrock green –which they already used in trains– which then evolved into “British Racing Green”.
As for Italy, it wasn’t until 1907 that they got their famous “Rosso Corsa” when a red Itala won the Peking to Paris race.
Germany’s silver came to be when in 1932 the Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union teams left the metal sheets of the car unpainted, giving birth to the term “Silver Arrows”. It became the national racing colour in 1934.
And Then Came Sponsors
Sponsorship was banned by the FIA until 1968, but sponsor liveries were being used in the U.S. before that. When the FIA lifted the ban, Team Gunston was the first one to introduce sponsors to F1, and thus created a livery in the colours of Gunston cigarettes.
The use of national colours was abandoned for most series by the FIA in 1970.
To This Day
Many teams and manufacturers still use these colours as part of their liveries and even their branding, and some remain very famous to this day.
Sometimes the whole car may be painted in the colour, but sometimes it’s just details that still carry the tradition, like France’s blue details in some of Renault’s liveries, while Alpine is famous for racing in full blue.
German teams use both white (BMW) or silver (Mercedes) in their liveries. Italy’s red is commonly used by italian teams, like Ferrari and Alfa Romeo.
British teams constantly used British racing green, like Jaguar did in F1 a few years ago, and Aston Martin has done in endurance racing. Japanese teams often use the full white, with the red sun or just red details, like Honda, Nissan and Toyota. In the United States, white with blue stripes (or inverted) is often used as a nod to this tradition.
Other Popular Colours
Brazil: Pale yellow
Sweden: Blue bottom, yellow top, three cross bands of blue on top of bonnet
Spain: Red and yellow
Ireland: Green with orange details
Mexico: Gold with royal blue details
Finland: White with two blue stripes on bonnet shaping a Latin cross
Switzerland: Red and white
Canada: Red with wide lengthwise white stripes
Australia: Green, gold and blue
CC Photo credits: Header photo by Jez B, Alpine LMP2 by Joe McGowan, BMW M6 GTLM by Garret Voight.