When McLaren was presented with a way to display digital advertising on race cars, team officials feared it was just a gimmick.
Brand logos are already on the cars, but this new method allows teams to display additional advertisements as they appear on panels mounted on the side of the cockpit and are visible to home viewers thanks to a TV camera installed behind the driver. The display changes to show a series of advertising messages throughout the Grand Prix weekend.
After seeing the technology in action for the first time, Louise McEwenexecutive director of brand and marketing at McLaren Racing, said she was “blown away”.
“I had to use quite a lot of imagination because it was very much in its infancy,” she said in an interview.
“But what came up was not just an opportunity that was an absolute first, but as a brand it was something that underscored our desire to drive innovation on the grid. Bruce McLaren’s founding influence is in our DNA.”
The company is behind the technology Seamless digitalbased near Silverstone, home of the British Grand Prix.
After debuting the technology at the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas during practice last year, McLaren is now using the system throughout the entire Grand Prix weekends. Seamless said four more Formula 1 teams will use it this season, although the company would not identify them.
Mark Turner, founder and chief executive, said he “tried to create a system that was resilient and authentic”.
“What we didn’t want was something just for the sake of it,” he said in an interview. “It’s really about performance, and that’s been our mindset through and through.” It can’t be detrimental to aerodynamics or weight.”
The original system weighed 350 grams, which was too heavy for a sport where added weight affects performance.
“Don’t go,” McEwen said. “Mark knew it was a challenge, but he worked hand-in-hand with our aerodynamics team and we eventually got the weight down to a point where we were good.
It now weighs 190 grams and is 800 microns thick, an eighth of a millimeter thick. “We use an e-paper material like the outer layer of the Kindle in combination with TFT [thin-film transistor] support to be flexible,” Turner said. “It allows us to adapt to the air surface.
“We’re still trying to keep the weight down because we want the smallest and lightest system possible to give teams the best value.”
Despite the initial success of the system in Texas, McLaren was still cautious.
“In putting in technology like this, there was a risk that it would be seen as a gimmick and a distraction for the driver,” McEwen said.
Advertising messages can be programmed into the system and are visible to television viewers. Most people don’t see ads in the stands.
“Keeping it on the driver’s side means it’s going to be picked up by dash cameras, so that was kind of key,” McEwen said.
“We signed a deal with Google last year,” she said, the only brand using McLaren’s new system. “It’s a match made in heaven, with advertising alternating between their Chrome and Android brands.”
Neither Seamless nor McLaren said how much brands would be charged to use the system, although Google didn’t pay extra because of its pre-existing contract with McLaren.
Turner said Seamless will work with the team to determine what sponsor will come up at any given time.
“What we’re pushing at the moment is situational relevance,” he said, where “you can have a specific message for the specific state the car is in, whether it’s pitting or behind the safety car.”
The company hopes to expand the use of the technology and add panels to golf bags, for example. “The helmets are the next milestone we’re addressing,” Turner said. “You think of all the different motorsports series, but you also think of the NFL”
For now, Formula 1 is the primary focus. “We want to make sure that by using our system, the team can bring in money and put it into the development of the car,” he said.