International Racing Colours

Have you ever gone to purchase paint and come across the colour British racing green?  You may have wondered what makes dark green so British.  Or racy.  British racing green is a legacy of the first 70 years of organised top-level racing, when race cars were painted in national colours according to the origin of the manufacturers (or, sometimes, the driver).  While modern-day top-level race cars eschew national colouring in favour of the colours of the primary sponsors (picture a modern-day McLaren, for example, decked out in the red and silver of sponsoring partners Vodafone and Mercedes, respectively; hardly anything resembling ‘racing green’), for much of the history of motorsport international racing colours were an easy way for spectators to pick out their homeland racing heroes amongst the crowd of cars.

A Lotus decked out in British racing green.  Source: J. White, http://www.flickr.com/photos/velsfi/5336089950/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Genericlicence.

As for how motorsport in the UK became associated with green (and how other countries received their colours), this dates back to the introduction of international racing colours in the early 1900s and the Gordon Bennett Cup, the first major trophy of international racing.  The idea behind the competition was to promote and accelerate various national automotive industries via races between representatives of national automotive clubs.  Race organisers suggested that the cars be painted to reflect their origin.  The 1903 Cup, however, presented a conundrum for the United Kingdom.  Red, white, and blue had already been taken by the Italian, German, and French entrants, respectively. As that year’s race was being held in Ireland (at that time a part of the UK), the British team chose green as a nod to the local host.  Not only did the colour stick, but over the next few years as more countries and more manufacturers entered the world of motorsport, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile developed a standardised schematic for international racing colours based upon the ownerhttp://basementgeographer.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=143&action=edit#, not the driver, of the vehicleAs recently as 1977, these colours were still present in the FIA Yearbook.  Some of the colours are obvious (green and orange for Ireland, yellow for Belgium, white and red for Japan); some aren’t (pale violet for Egypt, black and white for Latvia).

Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows

Initially painted white, German cars –  particularly those of Mercedes-Benz – became known as ‘Silver Arrows’ in 1933 when the manufacturer began entering cars unpainted, leaving the smooth, bare silver metal exposed.  Soon, silver became the colour predominately associated with German motorsport.  Source: J. Willis, http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnwillis/4086023707/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.

640px-2006_SAG_-_F1_Honda_RA272_1965_-01

The 1965 Honda RA272 shows Japan’s distinctive racing colours: a sheer white body with a large red sun on the front of the car.  Source: Semnoz, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2006_SAG_-_F1_Honda_RA272_1965_-01.JPG.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Ginkana - Giulia Sprint GT

This Alfa Romeo Giulia GT is painted in Rosso Corsa, Italy’s traditional shade of racing red. Source: D. Kiuz, http://www.flickr.com/photos/kiuz/4760623405/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.

640px-Delage_D6_2

A Delage D6 painted in French blue.  Source: S. Davison, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Delage_D6_2.jpg.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Genericlicence.
Adrian_Sutil_2007_Belgium_(crop)

Adrian Sutil’s Spyker F8-VII, painted in Dutch orange.  Source: T. May, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adrian_Sutil_2007_Belgium_%28crop%29.JPG.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Genericlicence.

Below, a table of the various traditional national colour schemes:

Country
Body Colour
Hood Colour
Other
Number Scheme
Argentina
Chassis
12
Austria
1 racing stripe
12
Australia
12
Belgium
12
Brazil
Chassis
12
Bulgaria
12
Canada (pre-1965)
2 racing stripes
12
Canada (post-1965)
2 racing stripes
12
Chile
Underframe
12
Cuba
12
Czechoslovakia
Underframe
12
Denmark
Danish cross on hood
12
Egypt
12
Estonia
White/blue
White/blue
Underframe
12
Finland
 Finnish cross
12
France
12
Germany (1)
12
Germany (2)
12
Greece
2 white stripes
12
Hungary
Rear
12
Ireland
Horizontal orange band
12
Italy
12
Japan
Red sun
12
Jordan
12
Latvia
12
Lithuania
Chequered
yellow/green
12
Luxembourg
Red/white/blue
tricolour striping
from front to rear
12
Madagascar
Horiz. dark green band
12
Malaysia
12
Mexico
Royal blue accenting
12
Monaco
Horizontal red band
12
Netherlands
12
New Zealand
Underframe
12
Philippines
n/a
Poland
Underframe
12
Portugal
Underframe
12
Romania
Underframe
12
South Africa
12
Spain
12
Sweden
3 blue stripes
Underframe
12
Switzerland
12
Thailand
Horizontal yellow band
12
Tunisia
White racing stripes
12
United Kingdom
12
United States (1)
2 blue stripes
Underframe
12
United States (2)
2 white stripes
Underframe
12
Uruguay
Fender
12
Venezuela
Green racing stripes
n/a

 

Though sponsors are more likely to dictate car colours these days after the FIA permitted sponsored liveries in 1968, international racing colours are still present in places, as seen below.

640px-Nico_Rosberg_2011_Malaysia_FP2

Today’s Mercedes F1 cars, while painted, retain the traditional silver colour of Germany. Source: Morio, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nico_Rosberg_2011_Malaysia_FP2.jpg.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

640px-F1_2012_Jerez_test_-_Ferrari_2

Ferrari and the Rosso Corsa remain synonymous with one another after all these decades; colouring a Ferrari racer otherwise would likely be seen as treasonous by the team’s millions of fans.  Source: G. Abrantes, http://flickr.com/photos/9259187@N05/6838538131.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Genericlicence.

640px-58_Aston_Martin_DBR9

640px-F1_2012_Jerez_test_-_Caterham_4

Modern-day applications of British racing green to an Aston Martin DBR9 at the 2005 Petit Le Mans and to a Caterham CT01 during 2012 Formula 1 testing in Spain.  Source: J. Keeton, http://flickr.com/photos/mulsanne/49537405/in/set-802678/ and G. Abrantes, http://flickr.com/photos/9259187@N05/6866622607.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Genericlicence.

640px-F1_2012_Jerez_test_-_Force_India_2

While India does not traditionally possess national racing colours, Force India have employed the colours of the Indian flag in the livery since entering Formula 1.  Source: G. Abrantes, http://www.flickr.com/photos/slitz/6838546829/.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Genericlicence.

Further Reading

Motorsport Memorial (2012).  Country abbreviations and racing colours.  Available at http://www.motorsportmemorial.org/misc/colours.php?db=ct.  Accessed 29 February 2012.

Racefanstv (n.d.).  British Racing Green and the Origins of International Auto Racing Colors.  HubPages.  Available at http://racefanstv.hubpages.com/hub/British-Racing-Green-Origins-of-International-Auto-Racing-Colors.  Accessed 29 February 2012.

Road and Track (1960).  The Color in Racing.  Available at http://www.miata.net/misc/racecolor.html.  Accessed 29 February 2012.

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2 thoughts on “International Racing Colours


  • The BRG car at the start of the article is a Lotus. It just happens to be next to a Jaguar ad banner. It looks like an Elise track special but I'm not 100%. A good Googling will provide more info.

    Great story as always! I've been a car lover & racer since childhood. My Miatas used in autocrossing have been either white or blue. I, the owner and driver, am American but it's a pure coincidence.

    Also, in your table, I believe you mean two white stripes for United States (2).


  • Good catches; fixed! The famous Lotus logo is just noticeable in the middle of the yellow racing stripe. Thanks, Mike!

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