Robert Sawatzky
Nov 28, 2017

Checkered response: F1's new logo

Asia's sports marketers and design chiefs weigh-in on Formula 1's controversial new look

The new F1 logo
The new F1 logo

This week Formula 1 unveiled a new logo for the first time in 23 years, the first step in what the racing league has promised will be a "complete brand redesign".

Created by Wieden+Kennedy London, the new logo "echoes the shape of a Formula 1 car: flat, low to the ground and with a suggestion of speed," F1 said in its release. Inspired by feedback from fans worldwide, the logo "has a modern-retro feel that leans into the extreme and dynamic nature of the sport," F1 said. 

Putting fans first is at the heart of the rebranding effort, Formula 1 insists, yet the early response has been mixed at best. Responses on Twitter have ranged from comparing its design to monkey art to nostalgic goodbyes and RIPs for the old logo.

Campaign Asia-Pacific asked sports marketers and design leaders from around the region to weigh-in. While few are overly enthusiastic, most bear in mind that logo redesigns rarely score early wins. Here are four opinions on the new look of Formula 1 and its brand challenges ahead:

Old F1 logo

Paul Galesloot, CEO, Asia Oceania Africa, Cowan (Singapore):

The new F1 logo clearly communicates the brand name and it is easy to reproduce (different media, merchandise etc). The abbreviated mark is suitable to be viewed on mobile devices.

There is an understandable focus on these functional criteria, however there is a danger that logos lack any emotional component. The logo is very simplistic and does not convey any passion, emotion or speed associated with the sport. Amazon and Skype are examples of logos that deliver a message beyond recognisability. 

I have also not seen a clear visual brand language that can be extended to multiple touchpoints. AirBnB uses variants of its logo across communication/touch points to build distinct brand equity. Starbucks use consistent visual elements beyond their logo to create a brand world. Virgin Australia also uses colours, imagery and textures to create distinct brand equity.

I am less worried about how people see the new logo, new logos are rarely welcomed, as the 'old' logos are associated with memory structures. This is especially true for drivers like Hamlton and Vettel who have won championships while the old logo was in place, thus naturally have positive associations with it.

Marcus Luer, CEO, Total Sports Asia (Kuala Lumpur):

Generally, logos are a matter of taste. Some fans will love it, others will hate it. The flat 2D version doesn’t excite me, but the 3D version is more interesting. 

In my view it’s more important how F1 changes as a brand, and a logo will only do so much to convey that message. They are making the right moves to be more digital and also bring the fans closer to the action and the drivers.

F1 has been very elitist with only the top paying customers getting closer to the drivers through the Paddock Club experience. That worked well for many years, but I believe now is the time to open the door and let the fans in and touch and feel the magic of F1 racing. They can learn a lot from Nascar and other racing series. To me that’s much more important than the logo.

F1’s greatest challenge now as a brand is truly delivering on these changes, bringing the action closer to the fans both through digital initiatives and through the fan experience at the races.  Being able to see the drivers and cars much closer will bring fans back to the tracks. That was always missing. Street races are a great strategy as well and will bring the races to the fans instead of asking the fans to come to the races. F1 needs to review its cost structure with race organizers and need to give them a chance to make money too. That’s a big issue; very few make money with F1. It’s a loss leader for most organizers.

Simon Drake, head of account management, CSM Asia (Hong Kong):

‘Bringing about change in Formula 1 (F1) is never easy, but 2017 has been quite a journey for the sport’s new owners. The need to signal an exciting new era for F1 has manifested itself in upgrades to the fan experience at-track and online, key elements in maintaining relevance in today’s ‘experience economy’.

A new era requires a new look and while a new logo will always divide opinion, they are clearly looking for a brand mark that has the potential to become iconic for the sport. It’s trying to reflect both the contemporary and historic, appearing both progressive and retrospective. This signals the growth intent of the sport for the future, with a logo that they hope translates well online, opening up the lucrative world of e-sports, fantasy gaming, smartphone apps, VR, AR and even 3D applications. In that regard, despite a bumpy initial reception from fans and industry insiders alike, let’s see if it hits the mark as is, or with some slight tweaks come the first race of the new season.

Tina Wong, co-founder, Yello Sports Marketing Agency (Hong Kong):

Sports marketing is shifting to be more lifestyle and entertainment orientated. The old logo was very literal and self-explanatory. Very relevant and recognisable for decades yet its look and feel remained dated. I feel it lacked imagination and fantasy. It was never made for the digital age, it was designed for print.

When the product cycle of a sport brand or a sport event evolve to certain stage, inevitably it will become more of an emotion to a fan rather than an actual product. Formula 1 has come to such stage to have a new logo that reflects its leading sporting experience. 

Formula 1 is moving towards becoming an emotional brand. The new logo is simple, gamer-like and gender neutral, which can attract a broader and younger crowd. 

There is an initial backlash from some fans. However, as like anything nowadays, we will get over it in one week, tops!

Matthew Miller contributed reporting to this article.

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