It’s February, the beginning of a motorsports season (unless of course you’re A1GP, which you’re not, because you actually exist) and it’s F1 car launch and test season, and this year more than ever the strategies for launching a car are many and varied.
If you’re an F1 fan, or a general racing fan, you’ll be familiar with launches.
They generally consist of drivers, and more occasionally team principal, pulling back a cover, normally of a colour corresponding to the car beneath or the sponsors there on, and revealing a car that looks like it’s been polished to the point just before the paint gets rubbed off.
We get treated to a tidal wave of stories and press releases about how the whole team has been locked in the factory over the winter, designers forced to spend Christmas poring over the front wing design, engine technicians fighting surviving on Pro Plus as they squeeze that extra horsepower out of an old block, simply to get the car finished on time.
Drivers will all tell us that they are looking forward to a successful season, no matter how badly they or their team did the previous season.
Then there’s the second part of the two pronged attack – pictures. We will get to see the car from every angle, every photographer will take pictures of what they deem important and doesn’t have a security guard, or the omnipotent blanket of secrecy, obscuring it from view.
Normally these take place in some swanky setting infront of a crowd of those deemed worthy to witness the birth of a new F1 car.
But this year is a little different.
Yes, McLaren and Ferrari’s efforts stayed within the normal template, as did Mercedes’ unveiling of last year’s Brawn GP car with some new paint on it, but soon the fact that F1 2010 is a little different reared is ugly, tightly budgeted head.
Sauber’s launch, if I’m going to labour (every single pun intended) the analogy of birthing, was the equivalent of a child being delivered in the car park of Lidl. The car abandoned in the middle of the Valencia track, drivers in plain white sponsorless fire suits, the car looking like a de-logoed BMW Sauber and initially grainy pictures.
The new Renault was simply wheeled out into the pitlane infront of some cameras while the Williams, Toro Rosso and Mercedes (the actual car, not just a paint job) were launched on the first day of testing with only the briefest of photo calls.
Then there are the new kind.
The online launch.
These are tending to be used by the new teams, like teenagers rebelling against the accepted ways of doing things. The first will come on Wednesday when we will log onto the internet to see a new Virgin under the covers (again, every single pun intended).
Online launches look to bring normal people into the same league as the invited great and good. Now what you think of this is all part of the constant debate as to how the internet, facebook, twitter, youtube and the ilk as part of modern businesses, but at face value it only seems to be a good idea.
The cost is surely less that the pomp and circumstance of the traditional launch (undoubtedly why it’s the new teams that are favouring them), while you still get the same end result.
You can direct what is broadcast to show your new car from the best angle (something that was sorely lacking from Sauber’s Lidl carpark launch) and hide the bits you don’t want anyone to see, either because their really good, or really bad.
And you connect with fans, rather than journalists, (probably another reason why it’s the new teams that re doing them).
But in the end, what is the point of launches?
Do they actually matter?
Can you honestly tell me the launch date of last year’s Brawn (not when it was masquerading as a Mercedes) last year, or the first picture you saw of the 2009 Force India, or what Felipe Massa said in the launch press conference at Ferrari?
Do you even think that sponsors choose who to put their money behind on the strength of who can pull a sheet off a car in the most photogenic manner?
Nope, what really matters is how fast the car goes compared to everyone else.
And don’t even get me started on testing......