Possibly the most beloved backmarker team of all time, and one for whom the word “plucky” was invented, Minardi’s twenty-year history in F1 saw them carve out a distinctive visual identity in their early days, before spending much of the 1990s beholden to the whim of a succession of different sponsors as they struggled to raise enough cash to keep going; and then finally taking on a new guise in the early 2000s under the European Aviation-backed ownership of Paul Stoddart.
In 2005, of course, they were bought out by Red Bull, and became the Toro Rosso team from 2006 onwards – giving us nearly a decade’s worth of fairly unimaginative identikit liveries. They may have more success on the track these days, but none of their cars have ever come close to some of our favourites from their first incarnation, so let’s take a look at them all…
1985-87 – Simod
Italian shoe manufacturer Simod were the team’s first major sponsor upon their launch in 1985, and their logo inspired an extremely effective debut colour scheme: a black monocoque with all-yellow sidepods and wings for the sponsor logos.
As a fledgling team, Minardi unsurprisingly had a variable portfolio of sponsors in their first season – but this smart livery tended to look better with fewer logos on it. Certainly, the multi-coloured “Resoldo” stickers that adorned the sidepods and windscreen in 1985 had the effect of somewhat throwing it out of joint. Although you have to love these incredibly ’80s-tastic team uniforms.
In the team’s second season, some of the initial sponsors had departed, and so the car looked slightly simpler – and mostly better for it, although it was a shame to lose the touch of flair of the yellow patch at the front of the cockpit.
1987, meanwhile, saw a more dramatic updating of the livery, with the sidepods now mostly in black (save for the area that Simod’s logo appeared on) and instead a swooping yellow stripe across the engine cover and down to the nose. Jeans manufacturer Lois also came onboard as a sponsor this year, beginning a long on-off association with the team.
1988 – Lois
Lois took over as Minardi’s main sponsor for the 1988 season, although Simod would still hang around on occasion, in various places on the car. With this change came another change in livery – back to a predominantly black scheme, albeit with yellow strips around the lower part of the car.
The sponsor layout took on a few different forms over the course of the season – in addition to the simpler and somewhat cleaner first look, there was later a more slightly haphazard configuration. The angular race numbers on the sides of the nose were pretty cool, but otherwise the car was starting to get a bit messy, and wasn’t helped by some additional colours being introduced by some of the individual logos.
1989-90 – Striped (I)
In 1989, Minardi underwent their most dramatic livery change yet. Not only was white introduced as part of the colour scheme for the first time, but the prominence was flipped so that black became a tertiary colour, while yellow was now dominant. This was all laid out in a terrific striped livery that, as well as being distinctive, allowed for more flexibility in dotting smaller sponsor logos around without making a mess of the car. The additional detail of having each main colour block be separated by a thin line of alternating colour was also a really nice touch.
The livery stayed the same in 1990, although Lois no longer appeared on the car permanently – just as Simod had before them (and indeed continued to), they would remain a sometime sponsor, but had ended their full title sponsorship at the end of 1988.
1991-92 – Striped (II)
Come 1991, the striped motif and yellow-black-white colour scheme were both still in effect – but in a rather different overall livery. The team went back to their original roots, with a predominantly black car, with the yellow and white stripes now only further back towards the engine and exhaust.
This was a really nice paint job – smart and with very effective distribution of colours – even if it wasn’t as dramatic as the previous two years. It perhaps only suffered a bit from having no clear sponsor identity on it – just a variety of smaller logos dotted around the car. It stayed in place for two seasons, with very little change when carried over to 1992.
1993 – Beta
An unusual change in livery occurred for the ’93 season, when – possibly at the behest of new sponsor Beta, a tool manufacturer – they switched to an almost entirely white car. Black and yellow were still in evidence, but only on the wings and otherwise as very thin accent stripes.
On the one hand, a white car is a tried-and-tested style for back-of-the-grid teams who have to balance a lot of different small sponsor logos – so in that sense, the car looks a lot cleaner than most other Minardis. But it’s also a quite unbearably dull look, and it did little to distinguish the team from anybody else on the grid in the mid-90s.
1994 – Lucchini
The team started the season with a completely new livery, unlike absolutely anything they’d had before – signifying their new structure, having merged with Giuseppe Lucchini’s Scuderia Italia team. A pretty even mixture of light and dark blue, orange and white, it’s incredibly mid-90s in style, but makes for a really nice combination of colours.
What I don’t understand, then, is why it suddenly changed partway through the season. The sky blue (the nicest of the colours on the original car) disappeared, and was replaced by more of the darker blue on the sidepods, and an engine cover section that changed from race to race – usually white, but changed to green for a particular sponsor at the last race in Adelaide.
It could just be that they thought it looked too similar to the Jordan – although that’s never really stopped an F1 team before – but whatever the reason, it’s hard to argue convincingly that it was an improvement. When the engine cover is just plain white, it looks like there’s something missing; and when it’s green, it’s an extra colour too many. As such, what could have been a really strong new identity for the merged team quickly disappeared before the end of the season.
1995-96 – Blue and white
Another dramatic change in colour scheme for 1995, with a predominantly dark blue (almost purple-ish) and white scheme, accented with fluorescent green highlights. Doimo came in as a new regular sponsor, although Lucchini still appeared on the sidepods to begin with. Valleverde – yet another Italian boots manufacturer – also came onboard, and for the first time (thanks to driver Luca Badoer) the Minardi cars had a small amount of Marlboro sponsorship.
The same colour scheme was deployed in 1996, albeit in a slightly different livery – with softer, swooping lines rather than the jagged sections of the previous year’s car. Neither design, however, really stands out as one of the team’s best or most memorable – the fluorescent green may have been a bit distinctive, but otherwise the blue and white somewhat blended the cars into the rest of the grid. Given how well the 1980s cars had stood out, the 1990s Minardis managed to do the exact opposite.
1997 – Mild Seven
At least, that is, until 1997, when the team (now separated from Scuderia Italia again) reverted to the classic black, white and yellow colour scheme – in a terrific horizontal “sliced” fashion. There was also a new sponsor, courtesy of Ukyo Katayama bringing Mild Seven backing. Somehow, the two shades of blue that made up the tobacco company’s distinctive logo actually worked really well on this car – perhaps because it was limited to a specific area, and separated from the yellow by white and black.
In a year that was generally pretty strong for liveries, it’s impressive that this managed to be one of the best. Even when the logo of skating manufacturer Roces appeared in red rather than its initial black, it somehow managed not to ruin the balance. It was a pleasure to see this colour scheme back, and surely they’d stick with it from now on… right?
1998-99 – Blue and Silver
Well… not as such, no. With an all-new driver lineup, and an increased linkup with Gabriele Rumi’s Fondmetal outfit, came yet another brand new livery. Silver is a rarely-deployed colour in F1 (beyond the couple of teams who have made a long-term feature out of it), and combining it with blue as the other primary colour was certainly a unique approach. In its first incarnation, however, this new scheme was a little on the dull side – although the team were at least looking a little healthier in terms of sponsor logos, with the association with Visa (brought by driver Esteban Tuero) a particular highlight.
The sponsor package changed yet again in 1999, though, as the driver pairing changed yet again – and with it, the livery was tweaked, although the basic colour scheme remained. This time, the blue moved to the entire engine cover, while the sidepods switched to silver. New sponsor Telefonica took prominence, brought by association with Spanish driver Marc Gene.
In its earliest appearances, this livery was somewhat workmanlike – albeit significantly tidier than the first incarnation – but became a bit livelier later in the season when Telefonica’s logo was reworked into an angular layout, following the lines of the airbox (a style that was popular at the time, being seen on the same season’s Benetton and Prost). But at the same time, the addition of red and orange on the sidepod Fondmetal logo, and the switch of Roces from blue to red, felt like they messed up the design somewhat.
2000 – Telefonica
In a deal that was something of a coup at the time, Telefonica became the team’s title sponsor for the 2000 season – and brought with them a livery quite unlike anything seen before. Using yellow as the base colour harked back to Minardi’s origins, but this time it was combined with blue and white – and more significantly, it was a distinctive shade of near-fluorescent yellow that seemed to change in every different lighting angle.
The new livery – which also, incidentally, included a spot for former title sponsors Lois on the tip of the nosecone – seemed set to herald a new era for Minardi. Indeed, at various points in 2000, it was reported that Telefonica were actually on the verge of buying the team outright, and relocating them from their Faenza base to Barcelona. Unfortunately, a change of heart meant that that deal fell through, and with Rumi also having to give up his stake due to ill health, it looked like the team might not even make it to 2001. When they did, however, it was with a very different look.
2001-2005 – European
After yet another failed buyout attempt – this time from Pan American Sports, who had sponsored Minardi’s 2000 driver Gaston Mazzacane but ultimately pulled out to sponsor him over at the equally ailing Prost instead – Minardi’s prospects for 2001 looked bleak as the season fast approached. At just about the last minute possible, however, they were bought by Australian businessman Paul Stoddart – who set about rebranding the team. With very little in the way of sponsors to work with, however, all he could really do was roll the cars out in plain black paint, with a handful of sponsor logos (including, most prominently, his own European Aviation brand). It may have been through necessity rather than design, but Minardi being back in black felt like at least a slight homage to their earliest days.
Stoddart also, unusually, included on the nosecone a distinctive pattern that was intended as a reference to the magpie bird symbol of his favourite Australian Rules Football team, Collingwood. This was one of the first elements to be dropped, however, when fresh sponsors came calling later in the season – Malaysian driver Alex Yoong rocked up with a (relatively) huge chunk of cash from the government-backed Magnum corporation, and their gold logos adorned the car during his appearances.
Yoong stayed with the team for 2002, in a car that took on a slightly more cluttered design, with the red and white pattern added to the side of the nose cone to accommodate engine badge sponsors Asiatech. A “GO KL” (in reference to Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur) logo was also added to the sidepods – and the team were allowed to keep both this and the Magnum sponsorship despite subbing in Anthony Davidson for Yoong for two races.
Later in the season, the team took on a new sponsor, Quadriga. An investment firm who would go on to be called Superfund – and sponsor the team almost to the end of its life – their logo added a green patch to the car’s airbox which was, frankly, unnecessary and messy.
The following year, Yoong was gone for good – and so was the Malaysian sponsorship. Instead, however, came Dutch computer company Trust, brought by driver Jos Verstappen. They started out just taking the white nose space left by Asiatech’s departure, but after a short while the team painted the sidepods white to accommodate them there as well.
On its own, this made for quite a pleasing paint scheme – but the car was unfortunately becoming quite cluttered by other sponsors. Superfund (as they were now called) had added several other boxes and areas around the car, and the blue logo of Gazprom was also something of a clash. There was a definite sense now that the team didn’t really have a clear, coherent livery, and were instead just bowing to the demands of as many different sponsors as possible in their attempts to keep afloat.
This was only further emphasised by the team’s 2004 car, which – despite having the same black, white and red base as the previous few years – must go down as the worst design in their history. New Dutch title sponsors Wilux slapped their light blue logo in the place that Trust had vacated, and it was simply an ugly clash – but what made it worse was that Superfund had now expanded from the airbox to take over the entire engine cover. It’s rare that I look at a car that has a large amount of green on it and say that I don’t like it: but this was one.
The problem, really, is that it began to look like a cut-and-shut job – the engine cover, monocoque and sidepod each look like they’re from completely different cars. Wilux introduced another clashing element with some patriotic orange text at the US GP – but two races later, they would depart the team for good, in acrimonious circumstances.
The contention involved Minardi’s decision to run entirely without sponsor logos at the British Grand Prix, in tribute to their sporting director John Walton, who had passed away that weekend. While it initially seemed that all the team’s sponsors were happy for them to do this, Wilux turned out to be less keen – and this, coupled with vaguely-stated contractual issues, resulted in the termination of the deal.
(The sponsor-free car, incidentally, showed just how much the various sponsor logos had ruined the design. Indeed, there were some races at which the engine cover was in plain black rather than green, and even that looked exponentially better.)
The last few races of the 2004 season were spent with Stoddart’s new airline OzJet advertised in Wilux’s place on the sidepods – and that would also be the main sponsor on the car throughout 2005. In an echo of times past at Minardi, the team was struggling to find permanent sponsors, and several companies only advertised on a short-term, race-by-race basis. The car continued to be predominantly black, with red-trimmed white areas – but it’s interesting that, although that style was first introduced as a result of Asiatech, it was maintained for several years afterwards.
It’s not, for example, as if the team simply couldn’t be bothered to repaint their cars – these were new cars each year, and the design of the paint job actually did change in subtle ways each year. Indeed, even throughout 2005, the design was altered from time to time – suggesting that a colour scheme that had essentially come about by accident was actually preferred by Stoddart to the idea of spending time coming up with something new and original (or that represented the team’s history).
In one sense, it’s a shame things ended that way – the team were bought out by Red Bull to become Toro Rosso for the 2006 season, and we all know how that ended up livery-wise – but on the other hand, it’s hard not to feel that a mostly black car, struggling to find enough sponsors to get by each race, is pretty much as emblematic a Minardi car as you’ll find…