Established in 1950, Formula 1 — officially the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) World Championship of Drivers — is the top-tier, single-seat, auto racing competition in the world, with the fastest cars in the world, competing in multiple Grand Prix events around the world each season. In 1950, there were only 7 Grands Prix but with the rising popularity of the sport, 2017 saw 20 Grands Prix around the world. Have I said “world” enough times? Maybe one more: Formula 1 is one of the most popular sports in the world. This weekend, at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the last race of the 2017 season, Formula 1 introduced a new logo designed by the London, UK, office of Wieden + Kennedy.
Suggested reading: Creative Review has a great in-depth interview with W+K’s Richard Turley.
Richard Turley, executive creative director of content and design, led the project for W+K London. “Creatively, the challenge was to reposition Formula 1 as a forward-facing entertainment brand, which works across a multitude of channels,” he said.
“The new mark aims to embody the core forces of Formula 1 racing: speed, attack, and control; while its sleek, sharp interlocking components celebrate the technical prowess of Formula 1 engineering teams.
“Its aesthetic is aspirational and leans into the future, but extends naturally from a rich heritage of motorsport graphics.”
The old logo was designed in 1987 by Carter Wong and it’s one of the best — or, at least, one of the most mainstream and recognizable — uses of negative space in a logo. The extreme italic angle and the fasty-fast lines on the right made it clear the logo was about speed. The old wordmark was highly questionable and I doubt it would withstand media scrutiny if launched today. Still, 30 years is a long time and this logo had built a lot of equity and many, many fans around the world.
It’s hard to tell if there was really a need for this logo to change; 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. Still, I do understand that the logo was 30 years old and there was a recent change of ownership — with U.S.-based Liberty Media purchasing the F1 and controlling the contracts, worldwide distribution, and commercial management rights and licenses — so the time was right for a major change.
The new logo doesn’t yet instantly (or clearly) scream “F1!” but after one or two seasons of use it definitely will, simply because that’s what people will see when they are watching a Formula 1 event. Right now, the change is jarring because the old one was so clear. Arguably, this monogram reads neither as an “F” nor as a “1” since the characters are so abstracted but since they exist in the context of racing, it’s really not that hard to make the deduction. I’m not emotionally attached to the old logo — I appreciate its cleverness but that’s about it — so I’m not “mad” at this new logo, as many people online are, and I happen to like it, a lot. It breaks from any contemporary conventions of logos: it’s not square to fit in social media avatars, it’s not “flattened”, it’s not hipster, and it’s italicized as hell. It sort of reminds me of the Juventus logo (that many people also despised) where this is being positioned as much as a sports event logo as it is a lifestyle logo with more merchandise/swag appeal. This new logo might not become as beloved as the old one but it has so much more commercial potential and, after all, Formula 1 is big business.
The new wordmark is based on one of the three custom typefaces designed by The Hague, Netherlands-based Marc Rouault. It has an old United Airlines vibe that I really like although my brain and heart are thoroughly confused by the “a”. I hate it as much as I love it. And that “1” is hot, as are all the numerals. I think this wordmark is hard to swallow because of how… retro it is but I bet if this wordmark had been done in the 1950s and it were getting replaced we would all be moaning about it.
The custom typefaces are pretty great. I feel like they exude some nostalgia for the old Formula 1 cars but also have a cool edge to them. Perhaps there is a disconnect between the typography and the fact that today’s F1 cars are some of the most technologically advanced machines but, still, I think these are going to make for some cool-looking print, motion, and apparel applications. (Aside from the goofy wreath crown graphics in the renders below, the merch look pretty cool if you are into the whole F1 aesthetic.)
The loose collection above of graphics and doodads is kind of exciting. Perhaps too heavy-handed on a kind of Minority Report user interface aesthetic but there is groovy general aesthetic to it that has a lot of potential.
Despite all my praise so far, the launch video irks me to no end. The glitchy effects feel so immature and the point-of-view aesthetic is too Blair Witch Project and not enough Oh-my-god-this-dude-has-a-GoPro-on-his-head-and-it-feels-like-I’m-there. The sound effects are like an MTV ident and the whole vibe is like it’s trying way too hard to reach an audience that isn’t there.
The logo will take a few years to be instantly associated with the races but given the amount of marketing firepower Formula 1 has, this won’t be a difficult problem to overcome. I do feel the old-school, space-age-exploration aesthetic needs to be tempered a little but not with MTV-style motion graphics; it needs some more elegance to keep catering to the affluent fan base it has without being overly smarmy. Overall, I’m a fan of the change. I wouldn’t defend it passionately but I think once the shock wears off from leaving the old logo behind this new logo is a good one to have in the driver’s seat.