When did F1 cars look their best? (Poll)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Have you got used to the unusual 2009 F1 cars?
Have you got used to the unusual 2009 F1 cars?

At the start of the year there was a lot of discussion about whether we’d ever get used to the peculiar 2009-specification cars with their bizarre front and rear wings.

So, has time made us more fond of the new-look F1 cars? How do they compare to the designs of previous generations? Have a look at them and vote below.

Which era produced the best-looking F1 cars?

  • 1950s (3%)
  • 1960s (12%)
  • 1970s (7%)
  • 1980s (11%)
  • 1990s (27%)
  • 2000s (35%)
  • 2009 (5%)

Total Voters: 2,354

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1950s: Front-engined brutes

1954: Two Mercedes-Benz W196s and a Maserati 250F (click to enlarge)
1954: Two Mercedes-Benz W196s and a Maserati 250F (click to enlarge)

In the 1950s drivers sat behind thundering great engines to which wheels were attached. The pilots then tried to trick these brutal beasts into going around corners, mainly by approaching them sideways.

1960s: Rear-engined cigar tubes

1965: BRM P261, Lotus 33 and Honda RA 272 (click to enlarge)
1965: BRM P261, Lotus 33 and Honda RA 272 (click to enlarge)

Those who think the coming of wings in 1968 destroyed F1 often point to the early-to-mid sixties as the time when the cars looked their best. With beauties like the Lotus 49 (below), it’s hard to argue, although these look so unlike modern F1 cars it’s hard to find points of comparison.

1967: Lotus 49 (click to enlarge)
1967: Lotus 49 (click to enlarge)

1970s: All things weird and wonderful

1973: Lotus 72E (click to enlarge)
1973: Lotus 72E (click to enlarge)

The 1970s was the final decade of great freedom in the regulations, and the designers dreamt up all manner of radical things: six-wheeled cars, ground effects and more. Cars appeared on slicks for the first time and soon they were sporting monster rear wheels too. This was F1’s gawky, awkward, pubescent phase.

1977: Renault RS01 (click to enlarge)
1977: Renault RS01 (click to enlarge)

1980s: Turbo muscle

1984: Williams FW09B, McLaren MP4/2 (click to enlarge)
1984: Williams FW09B, McLaren MP4/2 (click to enlarge)

Awesome power, huge wings, and not too much in the way of sophistication. That defined the turbo monsters of the 1980s.

1985: Arrows A8 (click to enlarge)
1985: Arrows A8 (click to enlarge)

1990s: Lean and low

1990: McLaren MP4/5B (click to enlarge)
1990: McLaren MP4/5B (click to enlarge)

The decade that’s probably going to get my vote, as much because of rose-tinted specs as anything else. Low, wide cars with slick tyres, but without the ungainly bulk of their 1980s predecessors. Lots of good liveries too – this generation produced the fantastic Jordan 191.

1997: Ferrari F310B (click to enlarge)
1997: Ferrari F310B (click to enlarge)

2000s: The aerodynamic age

2002: Williams FW24, Ferrari F2002 (click to enlarge)
2002: Williams FW24, Ferrari F2002 (click to enlarge)

For those who love clean lines, the winglet-infested cars of this decade were hideous creations. I never warmed to the narrow-track, grooved-tyre look, but the 2007 Monza-spec McLaren MP4-22s (below) were among my favourites from this time.

2007: McLaren MP4-22 (click to enlarge)
2007: McLaren MP4-22 (click to enlarge)

2009: Snowploughs and smooth sides

2009: Red Bull RB5 (click to enlarge)
2009: Red Bull RB5 (click to enlarge)

When the first of the 2009 cars started to appear we all gasped in horror. Half a year later, some of us have grown used to them and some haven’t.

And I’m definitely in the latter group. I appreciate the winglet-free sidepods (although more and more of them are coming back as teams find ways around the rules) but the fundamental problem remains that the front and rear wings are massively out of proportion.

2009: Renault R29 (click to enlarge)
2009: Renault R29 (click to enlarge)

Which decade do you think had the best F1 cars? Post examples of your favourites – and least favourites – below…

Images (C) Mercedes, Ford, Ferrari spa, BMW ag, Renault/LAT, Sutton

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123 comments on “When did F1 cars look their best? (Poll)”

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  1. Late 90’s and early 2000’s. The cars looked nice and streamlined, but didn’t yet have all kind of extra aero. If only the MP4/13 had slicks…

    1. Casino Square
      29th June 2009, 13:10

      I agree, I’d say up till 2004 the cars looked great, before they began to sprout winglets everywhere between 2005 and 2008 (the 07/08 Renaults were worst for this). I like the look of the 1960’s Lotus as well though.

    2. Agree with you both, up till 2004 when all the ugly parts got on the cars

      1. I totally agree with you to. It’s not as straight forward as the poll makes it because I loved the look of the cars in the late 90’s and early 00’s. Simple, beautiful and always great racing.

        1. Me too and while it’s great too see nice smooth bodies after having had all those fiddly bits on for the past few years, whenever I see a 2009 car it always makes me think of a vacuum cleaner, especially when they show you the front view during the race.

  2. The Ferrari F-189. A work of art. The purity of Barnard’s then-revolutionary form was never equalled, in my opinion.

  3. shockingly there is not even a single mention of the Mclaren-Mercedes mp4-20,which according to be was the most beautiful, both in terms of looks & performance of all time.

    1. graham228221
      29th June 2009, 12:42

      i’ve gotta say that i think the BMW F1.08 is the best Formula 1 car ever. The fluid detail is amazing and it’s a physics-geek’s dream. It’s aerodynamic porno, seriously.

      F1.08, hubba hubba.

      The RA108 would come a close second. Great pic here:

      RA108 at the Canadian GP

      In full viking winged, dumbo eared, sidepod vaned glory; gorgeous!!!! :D

      1. I absolutely love the BMW F1.08. As you say, it’s aerodynamic porno.

    2. I think shockingly is perhaps one adjective too far!

      Come on, the mp4-22 got a mention didn’t it :)

      1. HounslowBusGarage
        29th June 2009, 22:11

        It’s about as exciting as your mother’s socks :)
        All those flip-flaps, chimneys and tuning vanes just show how bad the original design was. After all, if the basic shape worked in the wind tunnel, they wouldn’t have had to bother with all the bolt-on rubbish would they?
        Auto porno? Take a look at something like the Citoen SM. That’s auto porno!

  4. Cars from the 2004 season were my favourites. Pure power and quite clean, but in the same time, sophisticated look. Only the grooved tires looked bad on them.

    1. i agree in part, hence my preference is 1993

      the yellow and green bennettons and the camel williams cars looked perfect!

  5. It’s hard to compare really. Out of all the “aerodynamic” cars (70s onwards) I’d have to say I prefer the 2000s. Compared to some of those 80s cars, the 2009 cars look pretty good.

    I’ll always have a soft spot for the 6-wheeled Tyrell though.

  6. Late 80s, through mid 90s are the best-looking F1 cars to me. I loved the Leyton House CG911, Tyrrell 019, Ligier JS35, the early Jordan’s (191 through 195), the McLaren MP4-6 through 9, the Ferrari 640, 641 and 642, and especially the 412T2.

    1. Good point about the Jordans – the post-191 ones were spoiled by their liveries, I thought.

      1. Very true. The green-green-blue 191 is easily the best-looking Jordan ever.

        1. Can I suggest a post about the evolution of the Jordan car (or car liveries)? They were always among the best looking, if not the fastest cars. Have to say I disagree with your post 191 comments too! My fav was their ’99 car.

          1. The 199 was very pretty, indeed. And quick, too.

          2. The 7up Jordan was definetly a breath of fresh air. Cool & Clean!

          3. I liked the animals on the front nose

            Bitten & Hisses – Snake
            Buzzin & Hornets – Wasps

            What was the shark car I can’t remember?

          4. Bitten Heroes

  7. I probably like the Lotus 49 way too much, since that’s what I always conjured up in my head when I thought of a racecar as a kid.

    That said, for no good reason I really liked the BAR 005 and 006, and I actually was a fan of the BMW F1.08, by far the most wing-laden car of the lot last year.

    I really disliked the 09 cars at first but I definitely have begun to warm up to them, my favorites being the FW31 and RB5, as well as the launch version of the F1.09 (despite the fact that it is technically horrendously ugly).

    Anyone else want to see 2009 spec bodies and front wings with huge low rear wings? Maybe it won’t improve racing but it will sure look awesome!

  8. I voted for the 1990s, but I think the 1991 season in particular gave us the best-looking cars. That was the year of the 7UP Jordan, the clean-looking McLaren, Ferrari and Williams, and the wonderfully painted Leyton-House. Many of the other cars had simple but elegant curves on the engine cover and nose. Even Footwork had a cool one-piece solution to connect the nose and front wing.

    1. Completely agree with Steven & Lustigson. Late 80’s / Early 90’s was where it was at for me. Adrian Newey had just arrived and had an immediate impact, they had all the requirements to overtake, fat slick tyres and the right amount of aero and no devices everywhere.

      The 60’s have an attraction as well, again probably through the lack of aero and smooth nature of that cigar shaped body.

  9. My favorite car was without no doubt the spectacular Lotus 72 John Player Special.

    This car was the predecesor of modern F1 cars, with a great effort on aerodynamic work made in a wind tunnel, the radiators’ location admiships, ultralow body, rear wing, revolutionary suspension (front and rear)…

    The Lotus, won three WCC and two WDC and 20 GP, between 1970 and 1975. But the famous car livery (John Player Special) was from 1972.

    Previously the car was sponsored by Gold Leaf and was painted almost in red with the front part in gold, but nobody remember this livery. Jochen Rindt won the WDC in 1970 with that car’s livery.

    I was a kid at that time, and I don’t remember any colleague at school prefering Batman’s car than the Lotus 72 John Player Special!!!!

    1. Well, I would say I like 1990’s also. That minimalist design was great.

  10. O voted the 60’s mainly because of the beautiful Lotus 49, but i also think the 1992 and 1995 Ferrari’s were very nice looking too.
    But the 60’s win for me because the 90’s became the decade where aero became too important and started to ruin overtaking.
    I also like the 2007 Mclaren, but it just has way too many aerodynamic devices.

    1. i meant I voted not O lol

      1. The Lotus 25.
        Nothing more to say

  11. I like 70’s because there were many different looking cars. Brabham in 1978 was great, Lotuses too, not to mention six wheels Tyrrel, and Ferrari in 1975-77.
    Some great cars in the other eras: Jim Clark Lotus, 1989 Ferrari, 1988 McLaren (I think the very best car ever, not only for looking but also for performances), Leyton House, Brabham in 1983, Ferrari in 1982…the longest I think the most I can find :-D

  12. It was hard choice for me betwen 60’s and 90’s but in the end 60’s got the vote – I just love the way cars looked then.

  13. The turbo brutes from the early to mid 80’s, from the beautiful Brabham BT52 to the monsterous Williams FW09.
    Also most of the cars from 1991 were very pretty – Jordan 191, Ferrari 643, McLaren MP4/6, even the Lambo with its curved sidepods.

  14. @ mp4-19b

    What place on this thread to those 2 posts have??

    Keep Max posts to the Max threads thank you. Sometimes we would like just to think about other things for a while.

    1. guess you are fed up of max :)

      1. Less so than people going on about him everywhere if I’m honest.

        1. For the record, the 2 posts to which I refer have been moderated, and most definitely not because I requested it.

          My post at 09:19 was all I said on the subject.

          1. For the record, the 2 posts to which I refer have been moderated

            lol Dougie – No wonder I couldn`t work out what you meant by references to … (won`t say the name just to keep on the right side of you & the thread ;)

          2. LOL!! Cheers presempre :-D

  15. Scott Joslin
    29th June 2009, 9:19

    My favorite car is the Ferrari 641 – It’s smooth and simple lines is a classic in my opinion. While I voted for the 1990’s I started to dislike the raised noses that became the trend in the mid 1990’s. The only car to have really pulled that off is the Tyrrell from 1990 the T019 I think.

    Worst car is the Mclaren from 1995 – ugly ugly ugly – and with that mid wing too – it looked like a dog and performed like one too!

    1. i agree . that mclaren mp4-10 designed by neil oatly was the worse ever mclaren ever. worse that the current mclaren mp4-24. mansell couldn’t fit his fat bottom into its cockpit. but i heard it was the 1st ever f1 car to be designed with the help of a super computer.

    2. I couldn’t agree with you more Scott.

      I have always dislike the raised noses. As for the 1995 Mclaren OMG!!!!! and it made the car look so much longer than the others i thought.

      1. There’s a point Keith, how about a poll on the worst looking F1 cars ever?

  16. HounslowBusGarage
    29th June 2009, 9:30

    Great to read about other people’s choices of ‘best looking car’. Problem is though, that you’re all wrong. The best looking F1 car was the Brabham BT49D from 1982.
    This was the Parmalat blue and white beast that ran in several races without a front wing – such was the power of the ground effect. The car was designed with one long, continuous curve from the tip of the nose to the end of the engine cover. Simply superb.
    Actually, the Leyton House March was pretty sexy, too.

    1. HBG: I really agree, the BT49D was a stunning car. The other car I really loved was the 65?? Ferrari white exhausts coming out over the engine, gold star wheels – gorgeous.

  17. just for the simplicity it has to be the late 88/89 through to 91. But was there ever a better looking car than this???


    1. Yes there was and it’s an F1 car!

      Mercedes-Benz W196 Streamliner

  18. I’ve had to vote for the 90’s due to the talents of Gary Anderson and John Barnard.

  19. 1975-1979 ((((boootiful)))

  20. I voted 60’s. The cars are so beautiful without wings; pointy, sleek and narrow. The lotus 49 is indeed a lovely car but my favourite (from a purely aesthetic point of view) is the 1968 Honda RA301. The white with red stripes is so great, its a pity the honda of recent years didn’t copy it

    worst looking car ever? Earthdream

    1. my post went wrong, I was supposed to link to the 60’s honda car:


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