McLaren – 50 Years Of Branding

2014 has been a tough year for Formula 1’s most successful team (and their fans). The loss of Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes started a chain reaction of setbacks that has the team currently sitting 6th in the World Championship standings. Those of you that follow me on Twitter will know that my unbridled support of McLaren often gets the better of me, following a Grand Prix weekend. 2013 marks McLaren’s 50th Anniversary so I thought it would be fun to have a look back at the evolution of their branding.

As with so much these days, newer isn’t always better and the same can be said for design. Once upon a time a company’s identity was heavily dependent upon its logo – an image that needed to engrain itself into the minds of everyone. These days brand recognition is slightly more complex. With social media and greater consumer access, a company’s identity is composed of so much more than an image alone.  Consider Nike’s iconic “Swoosh”, but then consider Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and the Air Max 1 silouette. In today’s day in age any one of these other entities are equally as important in brand recognition as the “Swoosh” itself.

This brings me back to McLaren an automotive manufacturer and Formula 1 dynasty that has seen quite an evolution in its identity over the last 50 years.

1963 – 1966


The original logo for McLaren, founded in 1963. As a piece of design, it’s wonderfully vintage. The coat of arms layout, bathed in the same shade of red they still use in their branding today. British Racing Green alludes to the team’s English ties, while a kiwi honors the New Zealand roots of the team’s founder Bruce McLaren.

1967 – 1980


McLaren’s logo was refreshed in 1967 and takes on a much more simplified aesthetic. During this era, the team would go on to become one of the more prominent in Grand Prix racing. A keen eye will see that the kiwi is still represented, but it would the the last time McLaren used this imagery as Formula 1 moved into the corporate era.

1981 – 1990


With Bernie Ecclestone at the helm of Formula 1, the corporate era brought the sport greater exposure on a global scale and a slew of big name sponsors like Philip Morris. McLaren’s Formula 1 cars heavily featured Marlboro branding and it could be argued that its likeness also found its way into the team’s own logo. This was also when McLaren’s unique typography began to represent the brand.

1991 – 1997


The logo’s design was further simplified in the 90s and would set the template for what we still see today. McLaren’s new branding also found its way onto the company’s first production car, the iconic F1.

1998 – 2002


For the new millennium, the red geometric graphic was reworked into a more organic shape. 2 World Driver’s Championships for Mika Hakkinen contributed to McLaren’s standing as a Formula 1 dynasty.

2003 – Present


McLaren’s current branding and what has become synonymous with the team’s success in professional motor sports and a return to production car manufacturing. For the newly finished P1, McLaren took their graphic a step further by using it for the shape of the car’s headlamps.

Design trends would tell you the typography is king when it comes to graphic design. With hashtags and keywords being crucial to a brand’s online presence, designers are faced with the challenge of not only engraving images into our minds, but letters as well.

There’s no denying just how iconic the McLaren logo has become and what an interesting evolution it’s seen throughout the years. However there’s still something very special about that original shield design. I wish it still adorned their cars today.

Photos courtesy of McLaren.


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