Black is back, and in a big way. The coming Formula 1 season is hardly shaping up to be a vintage year for eye-catching liveries. As the name of the MCL60 alludes, McLaren is celebrating its diamond anniversary this year. But its latest creation doesn’t pay tribute to an illustrious history by wearing a predominantly papaya paintjob. There’s just as much exposed carbon fibre weave as there is bright orange.
Mercedes has gone even further. The eight-time constructors’ champion will be defined overall this term by its winter powers of resurrection to take the fight to Red Bull and Ferrari. The W13 must eliminate the excessive levels of drag and bouncing that dogged the outfit so severely in 2022 upon the return of ground-effects to F1. However, the main talking point in the immediate aftermath of Merc’s launch on Wednesday was the return of the ‘Black Arrows’.
The primary reason for ditching the synonymous silver scheme is for a saving on the scales. Even though the FIA has ditched a proposed 2kg cut to the minimum car weight limit for 2023, teams are still far from comfortably making the 798kg threshold. As a result, each squad’s commercial and marketing department has largely lost the argument to the engineers. Forget a scheme that stands out boldly on TV to appease sponsors, there can be zero excess fat.
As such, Mercedes has ditched its synonymous silver and now returned to the black palette that adorned its cars during the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Take a closer look and, although the surfaces above the halo and around the rollover hoop and intake are indeed painted or wrapped, around the sidepods there’s exposed carbon fibre.
PLUS: Can the W14 take Mercedes back to the top of F1?
Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff said of the return to a largely black livery: “We were overweight last year. This year we have tried to figure out where we can squeeze out every single gram… You will see that the car has some raw carbon bits, along with some that are painted matte black.”
Happily, however, the drastic weight saving neatly replicates a 90-year-old slice of Merc’s own racing history. According to the official W14 bumf, “the team has taken inspiration from the legendary creation of the original Silver Arrows” in stripping back the paint.
Mercedes has returned to it’s all-black livery on the new W14, revealing its intent to save weight was inspired by the original Silver Arrows
Photo by: Mercedes AMG
Ostensibly, the archives read that Mercedes unveiled its new W25 to Adolf Hitler in January 1934, with the supercharged machine resplendent in white — the national racing colour of Germany. But for the car’s competitive debut (delayed by a fuel issue striking at AVUS in late May) at the Nurburgring in June, the three W25s were over the newly introduced 750kg maximum weight limit for grand prix cars by 1000 grams.
That almost certainly led revered team principal Alfred Neubauer and driver Manfred von Brauchitsch to devise a plan to strip off the lead-based paint in an effort to dip below the threshold. When von Brauchitsch proved victorious, the ‘Silver Arrow’ nickname was born — so the story goes, anyway.
Top 10: Ranking the greatest Mercedes grand prix cars
However, to take that tale as gospel is a touch too revisionist. For starters, two months after the then-white W25 was presented to the Nazi government but, crucially, three months before its maiden bare metal Eifel outing, Auto Union took the covers off its Type A. Technically, the machine was most notable for its 4.4-litre V16 sitting behind the driver in a mid-engine configuration. But it also ran in exposed aluminium to give it a silver finish first. Crucially, the cars sported the paint-free theme for the AVUS meeting that the factory Mercedes failed to start.
A looker, it was not. But with a top speed at AVUS of 142mph, it was at least effective as it won the 1932 contest by passing the white Alfa Romeo of Rudolf Caracciola on the final lap
There’s further cause for caution over the ‘Silver Arrow’ origin story. It first surfaced in Neubauer’s 1958 memoir ‘Speed Was My Life’. Prior to it being published, there’s little in the way of period, public record of the paint-stripping process. Also, many believe that Neubauer was occasionally a little too happy to embellish his autobiography for the sake of a good anecdote.
Furthermore, while it was good practice for the W25s to comply with the new-for-1934 weight regulations conceived to outlaw larger engines that were causing speeds to rise at an alarming rate, the 750kg weight limit wasn’t imposed for the Nurburgring. Reportedly to bolster the entry list with teams struggling to meet the target and pass scrutineering, the AVUS and Eifelrennen were run to the open Formula Libre rulebook. So, were it not for pre-emptive good practice from Neubauer, the popular origin story for the ‘Silver Arrows’ nickname would have at least been delayed.
But perhaps that most famous basis for the informal Mercedes moniker was already two years out of date, and there’s a very good reason why von Brauchitsch was so central to the paint removal in 1934. For he had a clear source of inspiration.
The Mercedes W25 won the 1934 German GP with its stripped back paint job — but the ‘Silver Arrow’ moniker had already been coined two years before
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Prior to the advent of the government funding both Auto Union and Mercedes, Germany was short of factory racing teams. As such, von Brauchitsch took the Mercedes SSKL (Super Sport Short [wheelbase] Light) owned by his cousin Hans von Zimmermann and teamed up with Neubauer. With the latter’s cash, they developed a streamliner body to ensure the car originally designed in 1927 could remain competitive.
The contemporary Mercedes cars were known as ‘White Elephants’ due to the national racing colour and their sheer size to accommodate a supercharged 7000cc six-cylinder motor. But for the rebodied SSKL driven by von Brauchitsch, for its bulky but smooth body, was labelled as the ‘gherkin’ or ‘cucumber’. A looker, it was not. But with a top speed at AVUS of 142mph, it was at least effective as it won the 1932 contest by passing the white Alfa Romeo of Rudolf Caracciola on the final lap.
Reportedly, due to the critical build time for the SSKL, there wasn’t capacity to paint the car to be ready for the race. As such, it competed in its bare metal silver. Therefore, during the first-ever race to have an accompanying radio broadcast, a Mercedes motorsport creation was referred to as a ‘Silver Arrow’ for what is widely accepted to be the first time.
Some nine decades on, it’s the weight rather than the pre-season rush that has caused the W14 to run without paint in large sections this time around. It also ties in to the W11 and W12s that sported a fully-painted black livery in response to the killing of George Floyd and to promote the Black Lives Matter movement. Should the superstitious believe that the W13 of 2022 was always destined to be a problem child, harking back to the team’s modern-day title-winning black-clad pomp will surely be a good omen for this year’s challenger.
Mercedes also claims that the W14 wears black to ‘echo the 1993 Sauber C12’. Although it housed a Ilmor-built 3.5-litre V10, the engine cover ran with the sticker ‘Concept by Mercedes’ in deference to the extended partnership between Merc and Sauber that was bearing success in Group C sportscars. That the 2023 challenger returns to black 30 years on is, it’s safe to assume, a retrofitted happy coincidence rather than an always-planned nod to the C12 – the painted, rather than bare carbon, car that steered Sauber to its 12-point debut season in F1.
Mercedes also claims that its W14 livery is inspired by the look employed by Sauber in 1993
Photo by: Ercole Colombo/Motorsport Images