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The finishing touches of car build

We like our cars how we like our gifts: wrapped

The injection of colour is the final piece of the jigsaw in car build. Every public-facing part is carefully wrapped in our livery design and assembled to create the car you see blast around the track in pre-season testing.

The transition from painting to vinyl wrapping has been one of Formula 1's subtler evolutions in recent years. Yet, given the importance placed on how cars look, and the excitement liveries generate, it's kind of a big deal.

Many teams have made the change, some partially, some completely. Others haven't. But why? And have we? Most of the car is now wrapped and has been for the past three seasons. Some parts are still painted, such as the headrests and the mirror stems, and many areas within the company still use paint, such as the team garages and the factory.

But the cars need to be light, and vinyl wrapping is both lighter and faster, and in a world of small gains, it all makes a difference, shaving valuable time off both production and lap times and making it simple to add and move partners.

In the past, there's a chance the addition of a new sponsor would have only been seen on the car in the next season, whilst scratches may have remained on the livery for months, if not indefinitely. Now, it takes seconds.

Darren Smith is in the Surface and Brand Technology Team and has been a painter for 30 years

A vinyl wrap is a custom-made decal, designed and printed to fit specific parts of our F1 car. They're attached through a careful but quick 100-degree heat treatment. Darren Smith is in the Surface and Brand Technology Team and has been a painter for 30 years, but he is now responsible for wrapping the cars.

Having spent the best part of three decades painting, he's in a good position to compare the two methods. Ahead of Monday’s Team Launch, we joined Darren during the vinyl wrapping process and watched as he made it look both ridiculously simple and supremely fast.

Having worked with vinyl wrapping for three years now, Darren certainly makes it look easier than it is. The application requires precision, accuracy, and a steady hand – if you've ever tried to apply a fresh screen protector to your phone without leaving any air bubbles, you'll have a good idea. Now imagine that on a much larger, more expensive scale.

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"Our team will work with Brand Creative on the design," Darren explains. "We'll get given the vinyl templates, which we lay onto the panel and apply. We get given each part separately as it is made. We would never wrap an entire car from start to finish in one go, but if we were going to, it would probably only take our team a couple of days.

"Once you've done it a few times, you pick it up. It's fairly easy. And anyway, if you do get a big air bubble somewhere, you can poke a hole into it, heat it up, and the hot air comes out, and it reseals itself. Honestly, it's so workable. We're basically the last in the production line before the panels, and parts get bolted to the car, ready to go racing."

The wrapping process is now complete – not that we're going to show you just yet. You won’t have to wait much longer, though, with the final design revealed at the Team Launch on Monday, 13 February.

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