Changing the image of a brand as historic and well known as Formula 1 was always going to be a calculated risk. So when the sport’s new owner, Liberty Media, took the decision to revamp the F1 logo after 23 years ahead of the 2018 season, the mixed response came as little surprise.
F1’s previous logo, used between 1994 and the end of the 2017 season, featured the letter ‘F’ next to a flag, creating an optical illusion in the middle to form the ‘1’. But as part of its push to make the logo more digital friendly and to put its stamp on the brand following its takeover in January 2017, Liberty unveiled the new F1 emblem ahead of last year’s season-ending grand prix in Abu Dhabi.
Featuring two curved lines to form the letter ‘F’ next to the ‘1’, the new, red logo was subject to an extensive research and design process with advertising firm Wieden + Kennedy.
“The fans want to get back to racing,” F1’s head of marketing Ellie Norman said. “It’s about the realness of it, the grittiness, the human element, and that kind of wheel-to-wheel racing. Wieden + Kennedy took that inspiration and have created this logo.
“It takes inspiration from the low-profile shape of the car, two cars crossing a finish line and it is incredibly bold and simple. But as we apply this in today’s kind of market and being mobile and digital led, we have much more flexibility and versatility with this logo.”
Sean Bratches, the sport’s commercial chief, said: “We are trying to reposition Formula 1 from a purely motorsport company to a media and entertainment brand with the heart and soul of a race car driver in the middle of it.”
“I think your brand and your mark represents the spirit of where you’re going. It’s an identifier for consumers in terms of how they represent the company or the brand. A number of brands, particularly in this day and age, are trying to simplify their mark to enter the digital space.
“If you look at Starbucks as an example, or Coca-Cola, which has taken the condensation off its logo to enter digital. We felt we had to go a little bit further to retool it to position us on a going-forward basis.”
The move did not go down well with F1’s fans, or the sport’s drivers. “I think the one that we already had was an iconic logo,” said Lewis Hamilton, four-time F1 world champion and the sport’s most recognisable star. “Just imagine Ferrari or Mercedes changing their logo.”
Bratches said: “We’ve not gone into this light-heartedly. We’ve given it a lot of thought. From my eye it seemed to be dated and seemed not to reflect where the sport could go. With all logo changes, whether they are wholesale or modest adjustments, people will have an opinion.”
F1’s technical chief Ross Brawn gave a blunter riposte to criticism of the new logo, saying it marked the start of a new era for the sport. “The Abu Dhabi paddock was the scene of symbolic events for the sport, one was the unveiling of the new Formula 1 logo,” he said. “Over the past few days the question was asked as to whether the logo is really a major priority – and the answer is yes.
“The new logo is much more flexible in terms of its use, especially when it comes to its application on merchandising and in the digital world. It has impact. The old logo was neither iconic nor memorable,” Brawn added.
“It was important to let Formula 1 fans see that we are entering a new era. Our sport is changing and must look to the future and also outside its own environment if it is to attract new fans, especially among the young.”
The significance of revamping the F1 logo went beyond the purely commercial aspect. It very much marked a break with the past; a break with the previous F1 regime, headed by Bernie Ecclestone; and a break with the past ideals on which the sport was run.
Liberty has focused almost entirely on laying foundations for the future of F1 during its first year in charge. A fresh approach to broadcasting and the sport’s digital presence has been the biggest change for fans experiencing F1 – and the new logo ties in with that.
Nevertheless, in a sport that is moving increasingly away from its past, the loss of the old logo is one more concern for fans who are uneasy about the rapid rate of change, fearing the loss of F1’s old identity.