Friday, July 19, 2024

Now you see it, now you don’t!

I was recently talking to a couple of former Grand Prix team colleagues and remarked how lucky we had all been to have worked in the sport during the era of spectacular sponsorship and new car launches, probably the mid 1980’s to the late 1990’s.

One of them made the point, however, that it was, of course, the number of multi-million-dollar tobacco sponsorships that were in existence at that time, that allowed the huge budgets to be allocated for this purpose. It’s a fair point, but it’s surprising that we haven’t really seen these stunning live sponsorship launches being re-introduced in a different category of business.

Maybe there is just no demand for them. A great shame in my opinion. Maybe they would send out the wrong image. Who knows? Whatever the reason, these live events were great fun and certainly memorable. I have to say that whilst the trend for on-line launches might be more cost-effective, in my opinion they lack the sheer magic and innovation of the live events.

Today in F1, by comparison, it seems that there is an increasing attempt to show us as many celebrities as is possible from the showbiz world, whether in a pit garage or on the grid, with it blatantly obvious that they are only there to punt their latest movie or book or song and are not at all interested in the racing, other than to get their face in photos with a front row driver. That’s how it is today. Who am I to argue if it sells tickets? I still miss the focus being on the drivers, team members and cars.

Back to the live events! The first launch that I attended was set up by one of my former teams, Benetton F1. It was held in London in 1993 at the impressive ITV Thames Television studio. One of the largest studios was set up with grandstand style seating, looking down onto the stage floor area. The lighting was very dim, but in the middle of the stage was the new Benetton F1 car that would be raced by Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger that season.

It was completely, but stylishly covered by an enormous black silk sheet which allowed everyone to recognise it as an F1 race car, but not let them see the livery underneath. It was like a shiny sprayed on cover. The photographers got to their feet and aimed their lenses at the scene in front of them.

As everyone held their breath, it became obvious that there were cords from the ceiling which would be drawn up and remove the black sheet.

With a flourish, the tailored cover was whipped away and amidst a ricochet of camera clicks and flashlights, a totally blank, bare s space was revealed. There was a stunned silence. Nobody had expected this. Only then did they realise that a celebrated artiste, whose name eludes me, had created this extraordinary silk sculpture of the shape of the Benetton F1 car create the illusion that there was a real ca underneath.

As if that wasn’t amazing enough on its own, suddenly, in the gap between two of the grandstand seating areas, came the sight the real Benetton F1 car, in its new livery, no-one at the wheel, driving itself into the centre of the stage, to thunderous applause as more people spotted it…. Then it stopped dead as if to say, I’m posing, now you really can take pictures of me!

Brilliant. But a couple of years later it was surpassed by yet another amazing launch. However, that’s another story for another day.

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