British Green, Italian Red and German Silver: Where Europe’s Racing Colors Originated


To many Americans, Formula One racing is an odd, almost esoteric counterpart to the more familiar NASCAR events that dominate motorsports in the U.S. One question frequently asked about European races then, is where the colors that mark different vehicles, such as red for Ferrari, green for Great Britain, and silver for Germany, came from. The answer goes back to the earliest days of auto racing.

The origin of Italy’s Rosso Corsa (racing red)

Ferrari 360

In 1907, a race was held from Peking to Paris. The first driver to cross the finish line was an Italian nobleman named Prince Scipione Borghese, who made the journey in a 1907 Itala vehicle, along with his press agent, a valet, and a case of champagne.

The prince had no lack of self-confidence; along the way he took a detour from Moscow to St. Petersburg to enjoy dinner with some well-heeled admirers. Nonetheless, he was victorious, and Italy adopted his car’s crimson shade as its national racing color ever since.

Why German racing teams use silver

Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR

Official colors for each nation were established in the 20s and 30s, with Germany being designated as white. However, in the 1930s, teams from Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union opted to leave their entries unpainted, which gave rise to the use of silver to represent vehicles for Der Deutschland. The official reason for the change is lost to history, though some speculate that it was part of an effort to reduce weight as much as possible.

Britain racing green: A tribute to the Irish

Jaguar E-Type

At the turn of the 20th century, British motor sport fans had a problem: motor races were banned in England. To get around this restriction, events were held in Ireland. Participating vehicles were painted green to honor the Celts who played host to those early contests. While the exact shade has varied through the years, the use of emerald has endured for over a century.

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