But it was actually just Formula One’s 2021 launch season, done within the confines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All 10 teams have launched their new cars for the new season and here we look at the best and worst of the cars and the events which launched them.
Best and worst livery
This is always a tricky one as it’s purely subjective.
As with last year, Formula One has some striking liveries on show this season. Some were largely in line with what they had previously: Mercedes kept its predominantly black car from last year and added some more striking shades of red and green, Red Bull and AlphaTauri stayed true to their stunning designs of previous years, McLaren stuck with papaya and Alfa Romeo basically inverted their red and white colours.
Everyone knows Ferrari’s F1 car will always be red, but its 2021 effort caused a stir when it was revealed to have a very untraditional blob of green on the engine cover for Mission Winnow (representing Ferrari sponsor Philip Morris International). It is worth noting the Mission Winnow branding did not feature at any of 2020’s 17 races and it is unlikely it will feature much (or at all) this year. PMI has often been accused of using Mission Winnow’s branding to circumvent tobacco sponsorship in F1.
The green was a distraction from the two-tone livery, which featured the normal red and a shade of burgundy at the rear, a nod to the colour used on the first Ferrari-built racing car in 1947. Ferrari ran a one-off burgundy livery at its 1000th race last year at Mugello.
Of the four completely new-look cars, two were courtesy of rebranded teams. Renault’s new outfit, Alpine, opted for a predominantly blue car with strips of red and white to make up the French tricolour. Aston Martin (formerly Racing Point) rolled out British racing green for its return to the grid.
Both of these looked great on track and it’s hard to look past either as the best – personally, Aston would edge Alpine.
While these designs are nice, it should be noted that with the Racing Point pink no longer featuring, there are quite a few dark shades of race car this year (Mercedes, Red Bull, Aston Martin, Alpine).
Two of the other completely new-look cars caused a stir.
Williams’ Finding Nemo tribute
Judging by social media, Williams’ design seemed to be the least popular. Many commented that it looked like a design you could create on the popular Motorsport Manager game, while others said it likened it to the Dory character from Pixar’s Finding Nemo movies.
The Williams press release featured the best example of marketing-speak around car launches, with the team saying the colour scheme “acknowledges our incredible past and retains the spirit, drive and motivation that remains at the core of Williams’ DNA yet looks to the future and signposts our long-term ambition to return to the front of the grid.”
Red, white and blue for Haas
The fourth team to radically change its look was Haas. Fans of the American team have often called for the team to run the red, white and blue colours of the U.S. flag and it finally has… albeit as a nod to Russian company Uralkali, its new title sponsor. The Russian company is owned by billionaire Dimitry Mazepin, father of new signing Nikita, and its money is largely responsible for keeping Gene Haas’ team on the grid for this season.
The design is not without controversy. Mazepin is driving under a neutral flag this year due to a ruling by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which announced that Russian athletes were banned from representing their country at championship events for four years — a ruling later reduced to two years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The Russian Automobile Federation confirmed the ban extended to FIA events.
Reuters reported last week that WADA is looking into the matter ahead of the start of the season.
Which team did it best?
The Red Bull teams and McLaren largely went unchanged – so which of the revised 2021 liveries was your favourite?
Best launch event
Tom Brady and current James Bond actor Daniel Craig send messages to the team as they launch the AMR21.
Aston Martin’s launch event felt like a bit of a flex. While it uncovered a beautiful all-green car for its return season, the team did a good job of reminding everyone of the iconic nature of its brand. It played heavily on the car’s links to James Bond with a message from Daniel Craig, while his “Quantam of Solace” co-star Gemma Arterton hosted the event.
Adding to the British theme of the event was the Union flag draped over the car before it was unveiled.
It also featured a message from NFL legend Tom Brady, weeks after his seventh Super Bowl victory. Brady is an Aston Martin ambassador but his presence and the Bond references gave a nice taster of how Aston Martin might play up its heritage and brand status as a competitor on the grid.
The launch wasn’t perfect, though. Despite being live, the event was heavily scripted. Team owner Lawrence Stroll delivered his lines in an amusingly robotic fashion, while at times Arterton spoke as if her autocue was broken. A video of Lance Stroll repeatedly saying “it’s very exciting” in different answers also went viral in the days after the launch.
Several other launches deserve credit, given the impossibility of hosting proper events at the moment in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alpine did not have Fernando Alonso at its launch event (more on that below) but had Esteban Ocon beamed in hologram style to talk about its new car, as it spun around in the middle of the screen. Event host Lee McKenzie also presented the new car in similar form, leading to Star Wars references being made about the event.
— Motorsport.com (@Motorsport) March 2, 2021
Alpha Tauri did a nice job of capturing the flavour of last year’s glitzy launch while also promoting its fashion range with a filmed event in Austria, featuring Pierre Gasly and new signing Yuki Tsunoda decked out in the company’s clothes.
McLaren made up for a lack of fans in the building with an interactive wall of fans watching remotely as Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo were interviewed about the new car. It wasn’t perfect, and it seemed the faces were out of sync with what was happening in real-time, but it would be harsh to poke too many holes in a creative idea.
Norris and Ricciardo also took part in a pre-recorded studio music session. It was different, but felt a little forced at times, with the team leaning heavily on the personalities of two of the most popular drivers on the grid. Understandably, this is something we can expect McLaren to do all season.
Ferrari split its launch event into two — one for the ‘team’, introducing new signing Carlos Sainz alongside Charles Leclerc, and another for the SF21 car. It was what you would expect from a team so rooted in tradition and did a nice job of giving fans and media everything they would want from the team’s new car and lineup.
The weirdest parts of F1’s virtual launch season
Fernando Alonso did not feature at Alpine’s launch. The Spanish driver suffered a broken jaw in a bike crash in February, prompting him to recuperate in Lugano, Switzerland, ahead of the new season.
Alpine’s launch was being filmed in the UK and the team explained “the sanitary situation and corresponding regulations in place” prevented the two-time world champion from featuring in the event. To put it in more ordinary language, Alonso’s bike crash had effectively delayed his preparations for the new season, and the fact he would have had to self-isolate on arrival in the UK meant it would have been a pointless journey to make.
While Alonso’s absence made headlines, there was a recurring theme to the virtual launch season — leaked images.
The most notable case of this was Williams, who had to abandon ambitious plans to launch via augmented reality when hackers broke into the app on the morning of the launch. Williams instead had to rely on the rather bland method of simply releasing images to the public via social media.
Given the work which had gone into the AR idea, it was a shame to see Williams have to scrap it so late on. This tweet from George Russell showed what fans had missed out on as a result of the hack.
— GR63 (@OfficialGR63) March 5, 2021
Ferrari’s image, featuring the very out of character green Mission Winnow logo on its red car, was leaked several hours before the launch event. Alfa Romeo’s leak was bizarre, as someone working at the event tweeted an image of the car several hours before the launch event started.
Aston Martin’s car also circulated online before its launch event took place.
It is always difficult to know where these leaks come from — Williams is yet to release details on the hack, although it has absolved its partners, including cybersecurity firm Acronis, of any blame.