Beginning from the early 1900s until 1960s, motorsport under controlled conditions was quite a thing around the world. Before commercial sponsorship teams took over, Formula One, sports car and touring car races took place with vehicles painted with standardised racing colours that indicated the origin of the car or the driver.
Held annually in 1900-1905, the Gordon Bennett Cup was the origin for racing colours. Racing legend Loius Zborowski’s father, Eliot Zborowski suggested that every nation who entered racing would be allotted with a different colour. Post-war colours were defined in terms of body, bonnet, chassis, numbers and their backgrounds. This was implied in the 1950s when the chassis were no longer exposed and that’s why the chassis colour was shown in different ways. It was in the late 1960s when commercial sponsorships revolutionised the way vehicles looked sporting all the sponsoring sub-teams.
Evolution had already taken place by now and cars were no longer determined by the country of origin of the driver or the manufacturing company of the vehicle. Not everyone was seen following these rules though. Australia’s Jack Brabham and New Zealander Bruce McLaren, used colour schemes on their McLarens that were not under the national principles. In 1968, existing sponsorship colour schemes that were already been allotted were allowed to be used in international racing.
Traditional colours are still used by automakers and teams that want to emphasise their racing traditions, especially by Italian, British and German. Similarly, Italian manufacturers like Ferraris and Alfa Romeos have been using the Rosso Corsa till now on their cars.
Sponsors have always respected traditional colour schemes and stuck to it. For instance, Marlboro and Santander still use red colour for their cars while McLaren was sponsored by West did not use the black colour and painted the car silver instead. They wanted to retain the term ‘Silver Arrows’ from their engine provider, Mercedes which is why this step was taken.
The following colours were allotted to various countries:
Various teams like Mercedes, BMW, Benz, Porsche and Audi used the colours white and silver (commonly known as Silver Arrows). The term Silver Arrows was derived from the raw looking silver cars from Mercedes-Benz and other Auto Union teams which lacked the traditional German white paint in 1930s. Until 1934, there was no specific weight limit for racing vehicles. Taking advantage of the fact, the German didn’t paint their cars to avoid excess weight, which turned out to be a myth in the 1930s. Finally a maximum weight limit of 750kgs was imposed in the year 1934. In 1990s, F1 BMW Sauber was back to their traditional white colour, while Mercedes-Benz and Audi painted their cars in silver.
In 1902, Britain competed for the first time in world racing. Their national colours red, white and blue had already been allotted and hence they settled on olive green which was already used for leading locomotives and machinery by them in the earlier century. In 1903, Britain hosted the Gordon Bennett Cup at Athy in Ireland, where the British adopted Shamrock green that later evolved into ‘British racing Green’.
In 1968, existing sponsorship colour schemes that were already been allotted were allowed to be used in international racing. Team Gunston was the first Formula One team to paint their cars in the colour schemes of their sponsors. In the 1968 South African GP, John Love’s vehicle was painted in the theme of Gunston cigarettes. Soon after which the British racing green was no longer seen on private team cars. The old colour scheme was abandoned by the FIA for most racing disciplines in the 1970s Since the 1990s, other traditional colours were back in use, such as the British racing green F1 Jaguar Racing cars and Aston Martin sports cars. Teams like Jaguar, Vanwall, Cooper, Lotus, Brabham, BRM, Bentley, Aston Martin, and MG dominated world motor sports for quite a long time.
Italy’s famous “Racing Red” was adopted in 1907 when a red Itala won the Perking to Paris race. Until 1930, the Le Mans GP d’Endurance were dominated by the British racing green Bentleys while Bleu de France Bugattis and Rosso Corsa Alfa Romeos of Italy gained victories in many races. Italian racing teams also included Maserati, Lancia, Abarth, O.S.C.A., and Officine Meccaniche apart from Ferraris and Alfa Romeos.
Countries like Japan and Spain chose their racing colours based on their national flag. Japan got its simple red circle on white significance of racing colour after the Honda RA272 that sported the Le Mans scheme. After winning the Mexican Grand Prix in 1965, this colour scheme was better known as ‘Championship White’. With teams Nissan, Toyota, Super Aguri, and Honda racing under its league, Japan managed to claim quite a lot of victories across the globe through various racing styles.
United States of America
National colours have shifted from time to time, for instance, Germany moved from white to silver, America flipped the dominance of their starry blue and white field and Canada took on a more patriotic red and white scheme. This mixed history and current colour schemes and has led to America taking any combination of white and blue. America was often seen using colour combinations like White and Blue lengthwise stripes or Blue and white lengthwise stripes on their racing cars sticking to their traditional national colour scheme. Teams like Cunningham, Ford, NART, Shelby, Chaparral, Ford, Shelby, Scarab, Chevrolet and AAR Eagle have been part of America’s racing success stories.
Bleu de France (Blue of France) is a colour traditionally used to represent France. On the bigger picture, in the motor sports context, the French Tricolour has always been used as their main colour. While sponsorships swept the grid and cast aside the old national colours, many teams did hold on to their racing traditions and histories. Listed by the AiACr, now known as FIA, racing colours were allotted during the Interwar period of GP racing. Bleu de France Bugattis have always held their significance to stand out from their rivals. Blue being the national racing colour, motor sport teams like Delage, Bugatti, Talbot, Delahaye, Matra, Panhard, Alpine, Gordini, Peugeot, Ballot and Ligier have used it. Citroën and Renault were exceptions though who used red and white initially and then switched to yellow and black combinations.