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How an idea to help save Manor fueled F1’s latest sponsor revolution

Running along the cockpits of the MCL36, and evident from on-board cameras, are innovative dynamic digital panels that change to display a range of different sponsor logos.

The possibilities opened up by this new technology in the commercial world of F1 are endless, and it’s almost certainly something the sport will embrace as teams look to give sponsors better value for money.

Teams will no longer be limited to selling space on their car just once. They can now have multiple sponsors who get their share of the action. They could even hold auctions for interested parties who want to step in at the last second.

There could be different sponsors on the left and right of the car; a sponsor that only shows after a win, or a partner that only shows on specific rounds.

McLaren announces Android 5G

Photo by: McLaren

Origins of the mansion

The future may be fascinating in how current F1 teams might use this technology, but the original idea actually originated as a way to try and help one of its minnows survive.

Rewind a few years and the Manor team, as one of a trio of F1 newcomers in 2010 which included Lotus and HRT, had been through its fair share of ups and downs through its various guises as Virgin and Marussia .

It lasted the longest of the new teams, but its last roll of the dice came in 2016, as it tried to secure the funding needed to ensure its long-term survival.

One of the companies Manor worked with was Silverstone Paint Technology (SPT), who supply the majority of the F1 grid with their coatings.

Manor’s inability to be able to allocate space on the car’s livery to sponsors – due to the unpredictable nature of transactions and the fact that it did not want to undersell quality real estate too cheap – got SPT co-founder and CEO Mark Turner thinking.

He wondered if there was a way for sponsors to be rotated quickly without the complications of constantly putting on and taking off stickers.

This is where the idea came to do it digitally, which led Turner to create the company Seamless Digital which partnered with McLaren starting this weekend.

“Manor were designing liveries that had these big gaps for title partners that never really materialized,” Turner explained in an exclusive interview with Motorsport.com.

“It got us thinking about: how can you potentially monetize the sport in a different way so that you’re not relying on one big partner? And what kind of technology is there that could help with that?

“So we looked at ways to change the brand quickly. Can you change the brand on a car in the race? Can you change it sector by sector? Can you have a different brand on the left side and the right side of the self?

“It needed maximum impact, minimum punishment from a mass point of view. And that’s where that thought came from.”

While Manor was ultimately unsuccessful, as financial problems in late 2016 led to its collapse, Turner’s band continued to work on the idea.

And, after running the early concepts of its design beyond FOM and talking to the teams, the technology has finally hit the spot now that it’s ready to run on the McLaren.

McLaren announces Android 5G

McLaren announces Android 5G

Photo by: McLaren

Performance factor

While dynamic digital signs are pioneering technology, it would be wrong to suggest that they are just a gimmick.

There’s one aspect that’s crystal clear when talking to Turner: the panels could only justify their place on an F1 car if they didn’t impede ultimate performance.

For this, they had to be created in such a way that there were no aerodynamic steps – where the panel would protrude from the smooth surface of the car. They are therefore designed to integrate perfectly with the body of the car.

Beyond that, their weight had to align with other non-performing elements – like paint and liveries – where certain compromises are accepted for the greater good of the team.

“We’re already working with 70% of the grid, providing performance coatings and aesthetic coatings, so we’re always looking to reduce mass or improve surface finish,” Turner continues.

“While we do that, we have a good finger on the pulse of what is an acceptable mass target. So, going from the heaviest paint jobs in 2021, which were over three kilos, we have now fallen at about 1000 grams. It’s nice of you to give us the benchmark as a measure of what success looks like for this system.

“Therefore the [dynamic] system on the McLaren, we are around 200 grams. But we keep iterating on the design.”

Seamless Digital is also considering running the system on hard hats in the future – where the panels can be much smaller.

“On helmets, the total mass of the system is 16 grams,” says Turner. “It’s only a tiny percentage of what the helmet takes in paint – and that includes the wiring and control electronics that we all produce in-house.

“It also draws 11 milliamps at idle and around 60 milliamps when transitioning frames. It is very low power consumption. There is also no aerodynamic stage: it is therefore fluid and homogeneous. That’s kind of what we wanted to achieve. »

The panels also had to be powered in a way that they didn’t unduly consume anything from the car either.

That’s why they use low-power technology similar to that used on e-paper readers – so they’re actually just two-tone for now.

The technology isn’t quite ready for full-spectrum panels, but it’s something that could come further down the road.

Bigger and bolder

For now, the dynamic panels only work in small areas along the McLaren cockpit during practice sessions only, but there’s obviously a chance they could get bigger and bolder in the future.

Turner says that in theory there would be nothing to stop covering large areas with it, but he believes that ultimately the performance factor will dictate things.

“They can get pretty big,” he said. “But the main thing that will limit this size growth is that we as an organization don’t have the desire to do anything that deviates from the performance narrative that is at our core.

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“You could use a 90cm by 50cm screen, but we fundamentally don’t think that’s an efficient way of doing things, so we don’t plan to fill large areas of an engine cover with it anytime soon. .

“But what you want to do is look at how you integrate that seamlessly into your livery and have it in your livery, and where is it then best applied from a performance standpoint?”

Although McLaren will have exclusive panel management rights this year, Turner believes that from 2023 other teams could follow suit for what could be a fascinating development path.

It’s a world away from how things were originally intended to help Manor, but, without that initial idea, it might never have happened.

As Turner states, “It was really sad to see Manor close the door, but it inspired and motivated us to do it.”

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport pictures

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