Art of noise

We meet the man behind one of the most famous racing liveries

It began with a blank sheet of paper,” says Paolo D’Alessio, describing his iconic design. It seems a logical starting point, especially when the car in question was the Lancia Delta integrale, successor to the Lancia 037 and the Group B Delta S4: a copy and paste job was clearly inappropriate.

“This is a small, short car,” he says. “Martini motor sport boss Giorgio Pianta actually wanted something like the Porsches that competed at Le Mans in the 1970s, but they’re two different types of car. I thought about this problem, and the only way to resolve this problem was to change everything.”

The Giugaro-designed Delta is indeed as far away from the Le Mans-winning Porsches of the 1970s, 917 and 936, as it’s possible to be. But its image is timeless and imprinted into the minds of rally fans everywhere as the Delta, in its various forms, dominated Group A rallying in the hands of drivers such as Miki Biasion, Juha Kankkunen and Markku Alén.

“You must only respect the colour and nothing else. It’s a very different sponsor. Every Martini livery has the same colours, but whether a Porsche or Brabham, they’re different,” he adds.

“The most interesting-looking car was the 1992 Delta, for which I created a parabolic design on the side of the car. Lancia, of course, means lance in Italian, and if you look at the car top-down you can see that it’s in the shape of a lance.”

He started unfurling piles of concept designs for his most famous Lancia, most of them using the parabolic curves he finally settled on, but in various forms: ribbons protruding from the right-angled sills, and arches across the car. In every concept, however, one thing remained the same: the logo had to sit on a white background, as per Pianta’s wishes. 

Michelin also demanded space on the car – less prominent than Martini – as one of the team’s major sponsors. D’Alessio explains: “I was told that people must read the Michelin name very well. I didn’t understand why, but they said that Michelin was the main sponsor of Lancia. It spent a lot of money, more than Martini.”

What’s designed on a piece of paper can go awry when a third dimension is introduced, so D’Alessio would stick his proposed livery on the actual car with coloured tape. “You must see it on the car, to judge whether or not it looks correct,” he says.

The 1992 Lancia was run by Jolly Club, a privateer who took a sixth consecutive world championship (manufacturers) with the Martini-liveried Delta. But at the end of the season, after 13 years of competition, 57 rally wins, seven titles for manufacturers and four for drivers, Lancia-Martini withdrew from rallying.

D’Alessio continued to design liveries that would prove memorable for years to come. His relationship working with Pianta continued, the latter subsequently overseeing Alfa Romeo’s DTM campaign as it took on Opel and BMW in 1995. The Alfa 155, whether decked in Martini colours for its difficult debut season in 1995, or covered in the manufacturer’s logo, was designed by him.

As a great friend of Giampiero Moretti, founder of accessory company MOMO, he went on to create the livery for Ferrari’s 333SP in the mid-1990s after Moretti said that MOMO’s livery needed a change. His designer delivered and, in 1998, so did Moretti, Ferrari, and the 333SP in the Daytona 24 Hours.

He went on to design the Martini-Fords when the drinks company re-entered the World Rally Championship, but D’Alessio isn’t as proud of the final Martini livery he designed: the 1999 Ford Focus. “It wasn’t completely my work. I did the graphic design and then they changed something in England and they didn’t use this red but a more fluorescent red. That was the last car I did for them,” he says, bluntly.

Paolo still designs but instead of cars has switched to watches, trophies, drinking glasses and even a lawnmower. The world of car livery design is markedly different from the late 1980s and 1990s, he says.

“Now you have too many sponsors on the car. If you are the sponsor, and you spend a lot of money on the car, that livery is your identity card. People don’t know much about what’s behind the car; people see what’s on the car, they see the sponsor, the colour. It’s one of the most important things you must think about as a motor sport sponsor. The livery leaves a lasting impression.”

Williams, in its last year of F1 partnership with Martini, is “70 per cent there” when it comes to its take on displaying the Martini logo. The only issue in D’Alessio’s eyes is that the Martini logo sits on a coloured background… almost a cardinal sin.

I ask him whether the Martini livery could be revolutionised and changed completely from its traditional blue and red stripes.

“No, no. You couldn’t,” he says in almost hushed tones in response to a ridiculous suggestion. “It’s an iconic sponsor. It is perfect. When they mix these colours they are perfect. When you see these colours you say ‘these are fantastic, fantastic’.

“I would change nothing. Nothing.”