Formula 1 car launches: Are they now a thing of the past?
Why the era of dry ice and pop stars is no more for F1 pre-seasons
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 15/02/16 4:24pm
Ten years ago then-reigning champions Renault unveiled the car which would go on to successfully defend their world crown in the most glamorous location associated with F1 - Monte Carlo.
A decade on and the French car maker held another set-piece event to formally announce their return to team ownership, stirring memories of the kind of event which was once all the rage in pre-season.
Although the ceremony held at Renault's Paris HQ wasn't quite what it seemed - the RS16 car and black-and-yellow livery 'unveiled' were no more than work in progress - the 40-minute event will certainly be in sharp contrast to the majority of car unveilings that take place ahead of the new season.
At least five of F1's 11 teams are set to conduct simple photocalls in the inauspicious surroundings of a chilly Circuit de Catalunya pit lane on the morning of the first Barcelona test.
So what has happened to the glamour of F1 car launch season?
The era of excess
If there was a 'golden' era for car launches then it must have been the 1990s and early 2000s. As the car manufacturer influence was beginning to grow, and big name sponsors had plenty of money to throw at the sport, how teams launched their new cars seemingly became just as important as what they were unveiling.
Arguably the most famous was McLaren's launch in 1997 when the team revealed their new silver livery at London's Alexandra Palace. Not content with Top of the Pops-style dry ice, the team also hired the Spice Girls, then at the height of their fame, to perform as the drivers pulled the wraps off the Mercedes-powered MP4-12.
But it wasn't only F1's big names who were pulling in the pop stars. Seven years later, usually low-key Sauber invited The Sugababes for their car launch in what can probably be considered the most unlikely match-up of all-time.
With Flavio Briatore at the helm, Benetton were keen not to be outdone by rivals. In 1996 they essentially took over the Sicilian town of Taormina to hold their launch event, while five years later the big reveal took place in St Mark's Square, Venice with the 2001 challenger arriving, inevitably, by gondola.
Jordan marked their transfer to Russian ownership in 2005 by launching their car in a snow-covered Red Square, while Honda revealed their ill-fated 'Earth Dreams' livery for 2007 in the auspicious surroundings of London's Natural History Museum.
That same year McLaren, newly tied to title sponsor Vodafone, received rather more positive reviews for their launch when 200,000 fans turned up to see new their new line-up of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton drive various cars around the streets of Valencia.
So what changed?
The move away from non-expense-spared launch events to the more understated affairs of recent years can be traced back to the end of the last decade when the economic crisis hit and a raft of manufacturers scurried for the F1 exit door.
With cost-cutting suddenly top of the agenda, set-piece car launch events which burned money largely in the name of showmanship started being phased out. Still, McLaren at least managed to come up with a novel way to unveil their new challenger in 2011 when mechanics constructed it in the middle of Potsdamer Platz in Berlin.
Teams briefly dallied with the idea of a joint team launch in Valencia in 2010, but inevitably failed to agree on the logistics and the plan was shelved.
The rise of the internet and ability for teams to stream events on their own websites has certainly played a role in the shift too, with Ferrari and McLaren among the early adopters of an 'online' only launch. Both teams are again doing likewise this year.
It's also true that the general demands of modern-day F1 mean that teams are less inclined to spend much time or resource on a car launches. With ever-tightening wind tunnel and CFD restrictions, plus the reduction in pre-season test days, teams are desperate to maximise the development time they do have in their factories.
Once at the track, they then just want to get on with putting the miles on the car. Having their drivers take a sheet off the car in the pit lane before posing for a few pictures is as good as it now tends to get.
It might not be quite as much fun for fans, journalists or perhaps even teams' own marketing departments, but 'austerity F1' has certainly killed off the car launch as the sport once knew it.
2016 CAR LAUNCHES
February 3: Renault RS16, Paris
February 17: Red Bull 2016 livery, London
February 19: Ferrari, online
February 21: McLaren MP4-31, online
February 22: Red Bull RB12, Barcelona
February 22: Haas, Barcelona
February 22: Manor MRT05, Barcelona
February 22: Williams FW38, Barcelona (TBC)
March 1: Sauber C35, Barcelona
The first Barcelona test starts on Monday February 22 and the Sky Sports F1 Digital team will be providing live commentary from dawn until dusk on all four days of both Barcelona tests while Sky Sports News HQ will also deliver live updates from trackside.
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