The 2019 F1 season breaks cover this week. Following the first unveiling last Friday, you have to say it can only get better. Admittedly, the Haas function was purely a reveal of the team’s colours on last year’s car (plus a 2019 front wing – more of which in a later column) but it was a strange affair from beginning to end.
The Royal Automobile Club (RAC) in London’s Pall Mall was a curious choice of venue. Centrally located and regally imposing it may be, but the RAC headquarters applies rules from what might be considered a bygone era (as they arguably have every right to do with a nine-month membership wait list before acceptance and asking you to part with £4000 to join, followed by an annual fee of a mere £1776).
The club’s dress code for men stipulates: ‘Jacket (suit, blazer or sports jacket) and fully buttoned-fronted collared shirt tucked in with tailored trousers, corduroys, chinos or moleskins’. Being of a certain age, I sympathise with the desire in certain quarters to maintain standards. But from a practical point of view, I can’t remember the last time I wore a suit - sorry, I should say ‘the suit’ – to a full-blown F1 car launch, never mind the reveal of a spray job. Any thought about travelling to London for the event was left hanging – along with ‘the suit’. Besides, the occasion would be broadcast on line.
What a mini-disaster that turned out to be. Apart from the obvious dearth of an audience in the club’s elegant but echoing atrium, the reveal started off badly when no one seemed to know from which end to begin removing the cover. Interviews were conducted with Kevin Magnussen’s back to the camera – which was probably just as well because there wasn’t much the poor guy could say about the overall appearance, apart from it looking ‘cool’.
Apparently there’s some white within the mainly black and gold colour scheme to stop us immediately declaring a resemblance to Lotus liveries from the past, which is a bit like me trying to avoid accusations of plagiarising an entire chapter from a best seller by changing a couple of commas to semi-colons.
When taking on board the overall effect of the livery and its principal purpose, a more significant point has to be its relevance in connection with a bold claim from William Storey, CEO of Rich Energy, the team’s new title sponsor. Storey says his energy drinks company is going to challenge Red Bull commercially – which is odd when his brand name is not jumping at you from either supermarket shelves or the bodywork of what looks like a modern John Player Special. Whereas, by uncomfortable comparison, the dark blue car from Milton Keynes is undeniably a Red Bull.
None of this is really relevant when compared with how the Haas VF-19, the eventual bearer of Storey’s brand, goes on the race track. Pushing the hype (no energy drink pun intended) aside, the thing that really matters is the ability of Haas to continuing punching so impressively above their weight even if the aim to leap from a very creditable fifth in last year’s championship to challenge Red Bull seems a touch ambitious.
The coming season, and those to follow, will also be a perfect opportunity for Storey to nail implications that his company appears to have little substance. Such scurrilous suggestions are triggered by experience of the many previous dubious enterprises latching onto the global F1 bandwagon.
Speaking of which – and returning to last time I wore ‘the suit’, albeit it an earlier double-breasted model with wide lapels, to a F1 function - it might have been a trip to Paris nightclub in December 1979 to see the reveal of the 1980 Lotus. It was a spectacular affair, the type 81 with Mario Andretti on board being lowered from the ceiling.
Andretti looked a touch anxious. As well he might have been. The car was in the colours of Essex Petroleum, a company that bought and sold oil without actually handling a drop of it. Essex had just become Lotus title sponsor and would remain so for 18 months until the owner, David Thieme, was arrested and held for 13 days on charges of financial irregularity that never stuck. He disappeared as mysteriously as he had arrived.
That Paris launch and subsequent extraordinary extravaganzas in London’s Royal Albert Hall were actually little more than vanity projects for Thieme. The same thought intruded briefly while watching last Friday’s strange occurrence in London.