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Opinion: F1 teams should have to launch actual cars

Models that bear no resemblance to the real thing just annoy fans. Proper carbon fibre and liveries, please

Published: 15 Feb 2022

Formula 1 is a lot like cake. A slice every so often is very enjoyable, but eat too much and you soon get sick of it. This is where we are in December, having consumed nine long months of F1 sponge, just longing for a bit of a break.

Then after a layoff, the appetite comes back. Strolling down the high street and glancing through the window of a charming, family-owned cafe you think ‘Ooh, I’ve not had Heart Attack Gateau in a while'.

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This is where we are now, in the middle of F1 launch season. We’ve seen a few new cars and excitement for the season ahead is building. F1 is back! Bring out the desert spoons!

Except things aren’t as they seem. The cafe is actually a conglomerate chain dressed up as an independent. And the picture on the box looks nothing like the cake inside. It tastes a bit off as well. Wasn’t this meant to be chocolate? Why am I getting… marmite?

Okay, so the metaphor is running thin at this stage, unlike our waistlines, but you get the point. The F1 cars we’ve seen over the last few days are at best approximations of what the teams will deploy at pre-season testing in Barcelona later this month. And why? Because they don’t want everyone else copying the ideas they’ve spent millions on developing over the last year.

Which is fair enough, but how does that serve the fans? Imagine someone new to the sport getting hooked on Drive to Survive over the winter, asking their parents/significant other to buy them all their favourite team’s merch for Christmas, now eagerly awaiting the new season having - at great expense - taken out a subscription to whichever channel carries F1 in their part of the world.

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Now, you see the Red Bull in that barely lit studio? Yeah, that’s Max Verstappen’s new RB18. Apart from the front wing. And those air intakes. Oh and the fiddly bits near the floor. And come to think of it, that rear wing will be binned once the photographer’s clocked off. But don’t worry about any of that, please now listen to why a tech giant you’ve never heard of has spent half a billion quid writing its name on there for the next five years.

To be fair, the launches conducted by Aston Martin and McLaren have been better. But to what degree? “It absolutely is… the car we’ll be taking to Barcelona,” McLaren technical director James Key assured us last week. Er, apart from the “sensitive areas” that had to be hidden from view. So not really the real thing then.

TG of course is no stranger to being riled by F1 car reveals. But rather than ban it altogether, why not regulate it so that it’s, you know, useful?

So here’s an idea. The car you launch is the car you run on the first day of testing. No ifs, no buts. Launch a decoy if you like, but if you’re that desperate to protect your genius aero package, you lose precious pre-season running. Your call.

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Everyone gets their own launch day in the fortnight before testing. This sort of happens already as each team needs their own bit of the news cycle to get as many eyes as possible on its drivers, brand and sponsors. Run this in championship order from the year before, so backmarkers get more designing time.

Oh, and absolutely no ‘testing liveries’. Several teams have run these in the past and - with its launch pencilled in after Barcelona this month - Alfa Romeo will surely be using the stealthiest camouflage wrap available. If it’s not in the spirit of making F1 accessible, we should get rid of it.

It’s partly why so many people think F1 cars ‘all look the same’, and with the new regulations being even more restrictive than usual, that will only get worse unless the sport makes the effort to highlight the diversity of the ingenuity on the grid.

This is after all the most gloriously complex sport on the planet, rich in flavour and calorie free. Such a thing shouldn’t be hidden from view. Come on F1, let us eat cake.

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