Formula 1’s new logo unwittingly reflects the sport’s mid-life crisis

Formula 1 logo

The new owners of Formula 1, Liberty Media, have controversially replaced the sport’s iconic logo.

At this stage, Liberty Media seem determined to sweep the whole Bernie Eccelstone era under the carpet. They want to cast Formula 1 in their own image.

In a way, that’s understandable. Some things need to change in F1. But by removing the sport’s logo, they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The relaunch feels confused, for a pile of reasons.

Reassessing the iconic logo

The old, iconic Formula 1 logo

Speaking to Sky Sports F1’s David Croft, F1’s chairman Chase Carey announced that a new logo would be coming, but seemed noncommittal about the reason change was needed:

I think it was the fact that the ‘one’ was just formed out of empty space, that’s what I was told.

Normally, clever use of negative space marks a logo out as a great. So for this to be the reason to change feels pathetic.

(The logo was apparently created in 1987, but I have been unable to find any examples dating back to then. Please let me know in the comments if you are aware of any earlier uses of the logo.)

As it happens, I do think the old logo was beginning to look a little dated. But anything 20 or 30 years old goes through growing pains, which it could well have pushed through.

I agree with the assessment on Brand New:

I see it more like an NBA/NFL/Olympics-level logo where it isn’t so much about the logo being fashionable or in tune with the whims of the times but instead be a consistent seal of quality.

I personally thought the logo was iconic, worthy of being discussed in the same breath as the Olympics logo, for instance. The flying F1 has been a consistent visual identifier of the top class of motor racing ever since its introduction.

A rushed vanity branding exercise

A new logo could have worked if it was well thought out. But this whole project looks like it was rushed.

The moment I saw the promotional video for F1’s new logo, I thought it reeked of a new marketing manager who has decided they need to make their mark by launching a vanity branding exercise. F1 did indeed hire its first ever head of marketing over the summer. Commissioning the new logo must have been one of their first decisions.

The new brand identity does seem unfinished. In the comments to this balanced analysis of the new look, people have noticed a range of inconsistencies in what has been shown so far.

F1 logo inconsistencies

Image source: Mindwave

The length of the F varies in different materials, apparently unintentionally.

Inconsistent Formula 1 wordmarks

Moreover, two differing wordmarks have been unveiled. Note the differences in these two images. The spacing is different, as is the shape of the m in the word Formula.

It is also curious that Formula 1 registered three completely differing logos with the EU Intellectual Property Office — another suggestion that this rebranding was a rush job.

Hiring an electrician to do the plumbing

An item in Creative Review outlined the process of creating the new brand identity. It was created by Wieden+Kennedy. This is an advertising agency, not a branding or graphic design agency. Perhaps that explains why the rebrand seems to miss the mark on first impressions.

The reason Wieden+Kennedy were chosen for the project appears to be that Sean Bratches, F1’s new commercial chief, worked with the agency when he was at ESPN. It’s like when a middle-manager joins an organisation and brings his incompetent pals with him.

To give them their due, Wieden+Kennedy knew they were being asked to replace an excellent logo. Richard Turley, who led the project to create the new logo, told Creative Review:

Quite frankly I just thought, look, there’s no way that we’re going to do an ‘F’ and ‘1’ any better than they’ve done it; it’s a beautifully simple way of doing it. We knew that we were up against a very good logo, [one] that has a huge amount of heritage to it, and that if we were going to blow it up then there had to be a methodology and a reasoning to it.

The logo signifies F1’s catch 22

I don’t want to be the person who rants about a new logo. People never like change, and it is easy to have a pop at new logos. I have waited for a week to write about it.

Unfortunately, whatever Wieden+Kennedy’s “methodology and reasoning” was, it doesn’t stack up.

In fact, the logo exposes the catch 22 the sport is walking into. For the first time in its history, Formula 1 is seriously tempted to fall back on past glories. The sport has always been about being at the forefront of technological progress. But some of its loudest voices now look to the past for answers.

The new logo looks like it could have been designed decades ago. You could argue that makes it timeless. More likely, it just looks dated. And given that they are replacing a 30 year old logo for looking dated, this can’t be the vibe they were aiming for.

More than anything else it looks like the logo of ESPN, where Sean Bratches previously worked. The ESPN logo was designed in 1985.

The surrounding materials are apparently meant to be futuristic-looking (even if they don’t achieve that). Richard Turley even cites the Designers Republic as a major influence on the project. This is a reference to the graphic design on the 1990s fantasy racing game WipEout.

Autechre print designed by the Designers Republic

I am a huge fan of the Designers Republic. Not only for their work on WipEout, but also some of the greatest album cover designs among other legendary graphic design projects. Their work is always bold and on-point. I even have some of their work on my living room wall.

Formula 1 have ended up with something that looks more like one of those horrible rip-off versions of WipEout. It is insipid, confused, and it misses the target.

By looking to the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s for inspiration, the new graphic identity of Formula 1 unwittingly represents the mid-life crisis the sport is currently going through.

Too radical, and not radical enough

A controversial logo can be a good thing, if implemented well. This new look attempts to be radical, but bottles it in the end. The result is a mess.

They could have gone all-in and done a London 2012. That was another logo that received a huge backlash. But I always admired it because it was genuinely new, original and exciting, as well as being well thought-out.

In contrast, the new F1 logo is a rebel without a cause. It borrows too heavily from old ideas to be truly regarded as radical. It’s the person who bought a Ramones t-shirt from H&M.

The “broadcast elements” that have been unveiled feel like a confusing mish-mash of clunky typography and clashing colours. It is clearly unfinished, and we must hope that it all comes together when the new graphics are unveiled for real in March.

Needlessly replacing F1’s perfect typeface

In particular, the new typeface F1 Turbo is completely ugly, and borderline unreadable. I cannot work out why this typeface is supposed to represent F1. I can’t tell whether it’s trying to be retro or futuristic. Whatever, it is totally classless.

Formula1.com ident

The closest Formula 1 has had to a corporate typeface before has been Futura. It is seen here on the ident shown at the end of Formula1.com videos, but it has been used by the sport in a variety of contexts over the decades.

F1 world feed graphics using Futura

Notably, Futura was the typeface used on world feed graphics between 1994 and 2003.

Futura has also been used on the podium up until last week.

I thought Futura represented F1 perfectly. Futura is 90 years old, but as its name suggests it was very forward-thinking. In fact, it is timeless. As such, it manages to be both retro and futuristic — the two things F1’s new identity appears to strive for, but fails to attain.

Futura remains one of the most modern-looking yet readable typefaces. It is international, as befits a world championship. It is neutral and functional. Yet its heavy use of geometric shapes — circles, triangles and squares — evokes the shapes found in the quality engineering that F1 represents.

The new logo can grow into itself

Searching for F1 on Twitter

It’s not all bad. The concept of the new logo has grown on me in the week since it was unveiled. However, I still think it gets totally lost at small sizes, when it becomes a nondescript rhombus. In the digital era, this is inexcusable.

When I searched for the F1 Twitter account recently, I completely scrolled past it. It could as easily be the logo for a fan site.

Despite those niggles, I think the concept is pretty good and I could live with the new logo. However, the surrounding materials are in serious need of tidying up.

Liberty Media’s quest is to cheapen and Americanise the sport

The biggest problem of all is the rationale for change in the first place. Liberty Media say they are doing this to announce a new era of Formula 1. This is completely disingenuous. There are no significant rule changes for next season. The cars will remain fundamentally the same, and the concept of the sport remains unchanged.

This branding exercise is style over substance writ large.

I am concerned about what is going to happen to the TV broadcasts next year as well. Chase Carey has hired former Fox Sports executive David Hill to oversee F1’s TV coverage. This raises the concern that the world feed broadcasts will begin to adopt some of the style-over-substance approaches of some American sports broadcasting, rather than focusing on producing a strong product that tells the story of the race.

Chase Carey explained to Forbes:

We need to make sure we continue to make sure our product has an innovation and an energy that excites and engages fans.

The article goes on to explain how much more could be done to “sell localised trackside inventory on a virtual basis”. In other words, they want to plaster the pictures with computer-generated advertising targeted at your country. Yes, bills need to be paid. But the TV broadcasts are cluttered enough as it is.

Another apparent top priority of Carey’s is to ensure that speeds are displayed in mph rather than km/h. This is only pertinent to the US.

Liberty Media have made some great decisions over the past year since they took over the sport. But as time goes on, it feels less like they genuinely want to improve the sport and reach new audiences. Instead, they seem set to cheapen and Americanise it.

2 comments

  1. The UK still uses mph, and now it’s leaving the EU, will probably use it more, rather than less, than it has for the past few decades. However, F1 needs to have kph for other markets. It should not be all that difficult to provide both – it’s a lot simpler than the localised ad programs that are also desired.

    The logo, to me, still looks like either “rl” or “rrl” and a 80s-style amorphous blob (to me, it’s even an amorphous blob at full size thanks to the small gap between the two halves of what is allegedly an “f”). Rather like the latter-day Dennis-era McLaren logo, except the McLaren logo was better thought-out as it was supposed to be a futuristic kiwi and there was therefore effective use of curves. That’s not a good look for a supposedly futuristic championship.

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