Back in the 1960s and 70s, Formula 1 went through a period of commercialisation that took the cars from sleek, stunning machines, to moving billboards overnight.
It was the start of something we have become all too familiar with since. On countless occasions, liveries have been dictated by sponsors wanting to maximise their brand exposure (just look at the hideous Sauber). But this year sees a trend emerging that will please the purist, but alarm those looking at the future of the sport.
Where have all the sponsors gone?
Many of the 2016 cars are virtually blank, and even those that have their sponsors on them their logos are much smaller than in the past, with a big blank space where a title sponsor should be.
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Let's look at the evidence...
- Haas F1 - F1's newest team from the land of the commercial (USA). It carries the team name where a title sponsor should be. Richard Mille watches are represented on the nose, but the rest of the car is blank.
- Manor Racing - F1's smallest team have produced a stunning car this year, with a striking red and blue livery, but it remains blank.
- McLaren-Honda - The Japanese motor company must be pouring money in, but yet again the car is devoid of title sponsor - that's three seasons in a row now.
- Renault F1 - Infiniti and Microsoft logos are there, but the car still seems fairly bare and lacking a title sponsor. The Renault logo sits proudly on the side pod instead.
So what's the issue?
Formula 1 has changed, the world has changed, customers have changed and for brands, those things don't work together. Here's why:
Sponsors are after those with disposable income, essentially they are after "The Millennials" (just read any marketing article anywhere and you will hear about those pesky Millennials). Millennials famously spend all their spare time on social media, and that's where you won't find F1.
"I'm not interested in tweeting, Facebook and whatever this nonsense is," Bernie Ecclestone famously told Campaign Asia-Pacific in 2014. He later added: "I don't know why people want to get to the so-called 'young generation'. Why do they want to do that? Is it to sell them something? Most of these kids haven't got any money."
Now, Bernie's personal thoughts on social media aren't the only reason sponsors are staying away. There was the small financial crisis that no doubt had some impact.
But here's the other thing, for brands to see F1 as viable they need to know their brand will be seen. The TV viewing figures definitely don't help.
For example, the UK saw an eight-year low in TV viewing figures of F1 in 2015, and it's the same story across the globe.
The cause could be as simple as Mercedes' dominance. But what if it isn't? Formula One needs to do some serious thinking.