Transport of membranes and proteins in eukaryotic cells is mediated by vesicular carriers. Here we review the biogenesis and functions of COPI vesicles, carriers that operate in the early secretory pathway. We focus on mechanisms mediating coat recruitment, uptake of cargo, vesicle budding and fission, and finally dissociation of the coat. In this context, recent findings on the interplay between machinery and auxiliary proteins in COPI vesicle formation and function will be discussed. Specifically, we will weigh the pros and cons of recent data on roles of the small GTP binding protein Arf1, of Arf1GAPs, and lipids during COPI carrier formation.