Formula 1 has rules about car liveries. A team must have both of its cars presented in “substantially the same livery at each event” and any change to this livery during a season can only be made with the agreement of the Formula 1 Commission. The aim of this rule is to make sure that cars are instantly recognisable to spectators, whether they are at home, or watching from the grandstands. The cars are supposed to carry numbers that are “clearly visible” from the front of the car and, in order to help people distinguish between two team-mates (which is often quite difficult) the first car must have a fluorescent red onboard camera, and the second car a fluorescent yellow one.
The only time when I can remember there being a problem with this was when British American Racing first turned up in 1998 with plans to run its two cars in different liveries, one using BAT’s 555 State Express branding and the other in Lucky Strike colours. This resulted in the truly horrible livery with which the team raced in 1999 (left). The multi-livery idea had been used in IndyCar racing where BAT had supported Team Green with Paul Tracy running with Kool branding and Dario Franchitti with either 555 or Lucky Strike.
Such concepts are regularly used in the United States with teams not only running different sponsors on different cars, but also changing liveries from one race to the next. This allows the teams to sell much cheaper sponsorship deals to allow a company to be primary sponsor for the races in which it wants more coverage, and a subsidiary sponsor at other events. This means that even the most focussed fan struggles to keep up.
As you can see from Kyle Busch’s Joe Gibbs’s Toyota (right) there are going to be multiple liveries throughout the year and, his team-mates Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano will also have different iterations of their sponsorship. This means that NASCAR is a very colourful championship, but it is tough to follow races if you are a casual viewer. In F1 you know what to expect from one race to the next. The difference is that NASCAR uses the numbers in a completely different way, rather than changing them around each year one team or one driver becomes associated with his number and that allows for much better branding opportunities for merchandising, as a driver might, for example, be able to sell five diecast models and five different teeshirts to each of his fans, rather than the one that can be bought in Formula 1.
The same has been happening in IndyCar racing with Penske Racing this year having sponsorship from Shell (for Hélio Castroneves), Izod (for Ryan Briscoe) and Verizon (for Will Power), but with PPG Industries and Guidepoint Systems taking over the primary sponsorship at certain events.
The downside of this philosophy is that the big teams can sweep up much of the mid-range sponsorship as companies can be guaranteed a big splash at two or three races when the cars they sponsor are running at the front, rather than negligible coverage for cars that appear in the midfield at each race. This means that mid-range teams either run out of money and disappear or they have to look to more scrappy sponsorships, although this allows them to bring in companies that cannot afford a full season.
There is much to be said for NASCAR’s use of numbers as brands, and having a much bigger presence on the car, so that every car is instantly recognisable, however the race-by-race sponsorships and multi-livery teams do seem to be rather less professional than the neat and tidy F1s.