Ranking the best and worst of F1’s launch season

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The grid for the 2020 Formula One season has (more or less) been revealed in full, with every team either unveiling their car to the public or completing the first laps of the new season.

While some opted for glitz and glamour to get their seasons underway, others chose the low-key option. Here’s a roundup of what we loved and what we didn’t from the lead up to preseason testing, which kicks off Wednesday.

Who had the best livery?

Alexis Nunes is joined by F1 journalists Nate Saunders and Laurence Edmondson for insight into the sport’s most pressing issues. This week, a look at the best and worst of the car launches so far.
Listen to the latest episode here
New episode on Wednesday, Feb. 19

The 2020 grid has some great looking cars on it. Alpha Tauri presented a brand-new look for its rebrand from Toro Rosso; Williams has added a big chunk of red to its blue and white scheme of last year; McLaren went for a striking matte finish on its papaya orange and blue scheme; Haas reverted back to the “traditional” look of its first three seasons; Racing Point kept the striking pink of its recent past.

In terms of the top three: Mercedes added a dash of red to its new car, courtesy of new partner Ineos, while the Ferrari looked as good as you would expect a Ferrari to look. Red Bull kept a largely unchanged livery, although its colour scheme has been one of the best on the grid for a few seasons now.

Renault and Alfa Romeo are the only teams yet to reveal their 2020 look. Alfa Romeo rolled out in a striking snakeskin livery for its first filming day of the season, but sadly is unlikely to keep it for the new year. Renault launched with pictures of an all-black car which it will use during testing before unveiling its 2020 paint job ahead of the Australian Grand Prix.

Have any car designs caught the eye so far?

Although most teams have opted against a radical revamp of their 2019 concepts, due to the fact they are all simultaneously working on cars in line with the sweeping rule changes that come into force next season, there have been a few bits which have caught the eye.

Red Bull’s car always sports some radical-looking concepts and it debuted on track at Silverstone with a modified opening on the front nose. The McLaren looked a lot narrower and tidier aerodynamically at the rear end of the car, the first designed by highly rated former Toro Rosso man James Key. The MCL35 is unlikely to bridge the gap to the top three this season but the team is confident it can consolidate its position of best of the rest in the midfield.

Further down the grid, many were quick to remark that the Haas VF20 looks a lot like last year’s Ferrari, which is hardly a surprise, given the close technical partnership between the two teams. Haas will hope that design helps it return to competitiveness after a difficult 2019 saw it struggle to understand its car at various stages of the season.

Of course, each team is working hard on new concepts for preseason testing and beyond, so it is important to remember the 2020 cars will change very quickly over the next few weeks.

Which team had the best launch?

There were only a handful to pick from. Ferrari, Racing Point, McLaren and Alpha Tauri put on slick events which revealed their actual 2020 cars, while Mercedes had a soft launch for its livery on the Monday before revealing its car during a private event on Friday.

Renault had a launch event without a car (more on that later), while the rest revealed images online. None of those can really be considered for this category.

In my mind, it is a straight choice between two — Ferrari and Alpha Tauri. McLaren had a very slick event at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, but it did not deviate much from its formula of recent seasons. There’s nothing wrong with that, as it was a well organised and classy event, but the new approach taken by the other two teams stood out above the rest.

Ferrari did a great job with a packed out Teatro Romolo Valli in Reggio Emilia, an event that also offered entertainment for the fans gathered outside and trialed some of the funkiest music you’re likely to hear at a launch event once everyone was assembled inside. It was slightly bizarre, but in an age where memorable launch events are the exception, not the rule, it was nice to see something a bit wacky to unveil a car many hope will be a legitimate challenger to Mercedes in 2020.

The prelude to the unveiling of its car was a long musical set, featuring an orchestra, ballet dancers and more. Given that Ferrari had pulled out the stops and invited a hoard of tifosi to the event in a hall used to hosting musical shows, it felt like a fitting way to mark the occasion. It didn’t exactly give a uniquely Italian feel, with operatic tunes mixed with bits of techno, but it was bizarre enough that it should live in the memory for a long time. Delightfully weird is a perfect way to describe it.

If it turns out to have been the preshow to Ferrari’s first title-winning car since 2008 then it might just gain itself legendary status to anyone who loves the team from Maranello.

However, as good as Ferrari’s effort was, Alpha Tauri just edges it for me.

The ‘new’ team’s launch event did a great job in highlighting exactly what Alpha Tauri is, it revealed a brand new livery (arguably the best on the 2020 grid) and did it all in the backdrop of a hangar facility packed out with Red Bull planes. It also left you in no doubt about what Alpha Tauri actually is, with a long fashion show beforehand — which at times looked like a glorified advert for a new installment of The Sims video game — showcasing everything the clothing company has to offer.

For good measure, the Alpha Tauri was also simultaneously revealed on the side of a shopping centre in Milan’s high-end fashion and shopping quarter, Rinascente — a reminder that this team run by an Austrian company is still based out of the Faenza factory in Italy.

The whole thing had a very Red Bull ‘cool factor’ feel to it and made up for the company’s unceremonious unveil of the RB16.

What was the most puzzling moment?

Renault’s launch was bizarre, with the media traveling to Paris to find the team did not have a car on display. It was able to offer both its drivers, Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo and team management, to speak in front of some rendered images of an all-black car. The team will launch its 2020 season colour scheme closer to the Australian Grand Prix.

Team boss Cyril Abiteboul reasoned that no team had a fully built car at that stage, although he spoke as Max Verstappen was thrashing the fully built Red Bull RB16 around the UK’s Silverstone circuit.

“After last year, I read what you wrote, and I read what people say about what you write about the pictures that we post,” he said. “I got extremely frustrated from people, you know, really reacting to the cars as though they are the [real] thing.

“But actually, no one is capable of presenting a [true] car. If your team in on schedule, you don’t have a car waiting here for a couple of hours or days. Your car is built and going straight to Barcelona. That is an optimised schedule.

“So on that basis, our only option was to have a fake car, a show car altered to look like this year’s car. But that is a waste of money and the results will be frankly below optimal.

“[Plus] people will always interpret based on that. So rather than that, no car. For anyone interested in the car, look at the pictures next week.”

Whether that’s a fair point or not, if you don’t have a car to present to the media, and the tried and tested option of launching via social media is available, it is strange Renault opted for this sort of launch — especially considering the fact the team was not creating positive headlines with its on-track performance last year. Putting on an event with nothing to reveal only highlights the fact nothing is there.

Renault has since cooled any suggestion it is running behind schedule by rolling its car out of the garage in Barcelona on Monday for a day of filming at the Circuit de Catalunya.

What were the standout quotes from the week?

“It’s a little bit more red than last year!”

Sebastian Vettel’s verdict on the Ferrari, said while flashing a cheeky grin, was also quite prophetic, with many noticing that several cars have opted for a tinge more red for their 2020 cars.

“We would like to have the fastest man in the car and I know that Lewis wants to be in the fastest car, so there is an obvious mutual outcome…”

At his team’s livery launch on Monday, Toto Wolff sounded relaxed about the prospect of keeping reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes beyond 2020.

“Bonjour mes amis. Je t’aime!”

For the second year running, Australian jokester Daniel Ricciardo displayed his ropey grasp of the French language at the launch of Renault’s new car.

“I pretty much designed the whole thing myself!”

Lando Norris jokingly takes credit for McLaren’s striking MCL35, which was presented to the media with a striking orange and blue matte finish.

“I find it funny seeing that. I’ve just always known to do my talking on the track. Often I tend to see that [talk] as a sign of weakness.”

Lewis Hamilton shrugs off Max Verstappen’s comments ahead of the season – namely that the reigning world champion “is definitely one of the best out there, but he’s not God” – by suggesting it hints at a weakness in the Red Bull youngster’s armour.





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