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)”

  1. I think the Jordan 191 was the best looking F1 car ever followed by the 1985 lotus. Here’s a curveball, i really liked the 1996 Arrows, not sure why just something about it, Any thoughts?

  2. i salute for those people who created the F1 car. can u imagine, they stat from nothing until we can see now.. i think we should follow them, do it until u win..

  3. 88-94 were the best looking. Although I love the the 60’s cars too.

    I Started watching F1 in 94, only watching regularily in ’96 so I should prefer the late 90’s cards, but the older ones are best!

  4. This is so cruel… I couldn’t decide! A JPS liveried Lotus…a Camel Liveried Lotus…a Lotus 49 and that’s just Lotus! Oh…There is that Canon Williams, an MP4…

    But I voted 70’s…Before wind tunnels and all that, and to be honest…I think they just look cool.

  5. I went with 1990s. I think I am biased as I started following F1 in 1991. If I had to pick others it would be between the 1960s and 2000s.

    It is probably due to what I am used to, but a modern F1 car painted all one colour just doesn’t look right to me, whereas when F1 cars were usually all one colour, before wings in the 1950s and 1960s, I think it works and it suits the cars.

    If it wasn’t for all the extra winglets I probably would have said 2000s, having said that on some cars I thought they looked quite good. For example I thought the Viking horns and chimney exhausts really worked on the MP4-20, one of my personal favourite cars, but when the Viking horns were used by BMW and Honda they didn’t look as good to me, probably due to the different liveries.

    Another thing that counts against cars from the last decade or so is grooved tyres, one thing the 2009 cars have going for them is the return to slicks. I remember at Monaco this year there was an onboard shot with a McLaren and I thought it looked great with the silver livery, the nose free of any winglets, the slick tyres and of course on board shots are usually better at Monaco because of the closeness of the walls.

    As for the 2009 cars if it wasn’t for the front and rear wings looking so out of proportion I would say the McLaren MP4-24 when it was launched, before it got those sidepod airflow conditioners, would have been up there as one of my all time favourite looking cars, shame it is so slow.

  6. A beautiful car is a car that wins ;)
    Superficially, I have always preferred the look of cars before sponsorship began.

    1. You should be a politician persempre lol what a very political answer

      I agree about sponsorship, but that i’m afraid is here to stay.

  7. I went for 90’s, most likely because it’s the era I grew up watching, more than anything. The mid-90’s more specifically. The early 90’s seasons still had essence of 80’s in them, and the late 90’s were subject to the narrow width and grooved tyres.

    The 2000’s were too busy, the 80’s cars just look strange, much like everything else in the 80’s. The 70’s cars just look plain wrong, and before that don’t even look like F1 cars, and I’m not a fan of retro automotive designs.

    Here’s to the twenty-tenty decade’s crop!

    1. “twenty-tenty”???????? you trying to add to the english language with a new saying there Ajokay? lol

  8. Lotus ’79… a Thing of Beauty and totally unbeatable!

    Anything penned by Colin Chapman, in fact.

  9. I voted for 2000’s, but I can be more specific. As a complete field I don’t think there was a year with as aethetically pleasing (to me at least) field as 2006.

    In particular, the Honda, McLaren and Williams’ that year I thought had the right balance between beauty and technical interest (through the various aerodynamic appendages). In 2007 they started to get a bit too many winglets, bridge wings etc and don’t even get me started on 2008’s cars. Way too many flip-ups etc on most of them..!!

  10. Vindication!

    Most people voted for 2000s and I’m one of them.

    Why? Well the cars were beautiful to my eyes. Comparing an early 1990s car to a 2008 car is like comparing a walkman to an iPod. The aerodynamic pieces added dynamics and intrigue to a design and gave more for techies like myself who would love to think and wonder what that little flick here does, or that little sharp edge there.

    The racing was naff as a result of all the aero, but the cars themselves were fantastic.

    1. HounslowBusGarage
      29th June 2009, 22:21

      I disagree Mouse Nightshirt!
      All the aerodynamic bits and bobs masked the overall design – a bit like adding a fluffy velour coating to your beloved iPod.
      After all, we are discussing when the cars looked their best here; not when they were fastest or most efficient.
      I like my women svelte and smooth and uncompromised by sticky-up bits here or sticky-out flaps there. They might not run as fast as other women, but they are easier on the eye.
      Please don’t forward this to my wife .

    2. Comparing an early 1990s car to a 2008 car is like comparing a walkman to an iPod

      I’d take the walkman over an Ipod :)

  11. And I should add, 1960s comes a very close second for me.

  12. I have a soft spot for the Minardi PS01 to be honest.

    There should be more black liveries in my opinion, they even made the RA106 look quite nice:


    1. You’ll be happy to hear, John, that March F1 (confirmed next year) run predominantly black liveries! I know! I can’t wait either! – But this was the best black F1 car hahaha lol


      1. LOL. Not sure the Overtaking Working Group would be to happy with that design!

  13. 1960s for me. The cars were beautiful in their (relative) simplicity, yet more refined and advanced than those of the 50s.

    The cars of the 1980s have a great appeal to me too – the MP4-4 is an obvious example. Lean and agressive. :)

    1. I agree. With their wide track and narrow, purposeful bodies the cars looked like fighter planes – and flew like them too!

      Stewart and Hill at the Flugplatz

  14. i love the 70’s!

  15. I think the best looking F1 car since they’ve gone aerodynamically sound is the 2009 F60, seen from the side. It’s clean, sleek and incredibly stylishly finished (for the record, I’m no Ferrari supporter). Of course the narrow and tall rear wing ruins the look from all angles too close to the front.

    Then again I haven’t been following F1 for that long and 2009 marked the first year for me there was a huge overhaul in visible regulations, so perhaps that’s why I kind of like them a bit extra. I have a feeling many people here vote very nostalgic as well. :)

    All in all I like that they change every now and then and while I do like the look of these 2009 spec cars I don’t want it to stick around forever.

  16. Salut Gilles
    29th June 2009, 14:57

    I voted 2000s, but I really only like the years without the plethora of aero bits (2000-2004 and 2009). Though, unlike many others, I do like the look of the anvil wings.

    The Jaguars were probably the best looking cars ever (though the livery certainly helps significantly).

  17. FW14B with a big red 5 on it and a bloke with a moustache at the wheel. What more could you want?!

    1. As a big ‘Nige fan i could agree, but the car was not the best looking car. Though not ugly by any means.

  18. Am I the only one who thought the winglets looked cool?

    But it really is hard to choose. Each car is special in its own way. Some are literally works of art even though they were designed for speed, not show.

    1. Max should resign now!!!
      29th June 2009, 15:45

      I liked some winglets as well, the problem is it got out of hand and cars began to look like starships or something.
      Anyway my vote goes for 90’s cars, and one more thing, I personally HATE 2009 cars they are awful they look like toy cars and what gets me sick is that horrible “shark fin”, arrrgh.

    2. What year was it when the tyrell had those huge side winglets that made it look like the karate kid?

      so ugly and at least fia banned it right away.

  19. Rick DeNatale
    29th June 2009, 16:10

    As usual, the results of this poll are heavily affected by the age demographics of the readers.

    I had to vote for the 1970s, which was when I first really started paying attention to F1, although I’d probably give second place to the 1960s.

    The Lotus 79 was IMHO, the best looking F1 car of all time. I also like the McLaren M23, and the Ferrari 312T series, and from the 60s the Lotus 49 (sans wings) and the “sharknose” Ferrari 156.

    I think that the thing which makes the 70’s stand out is that it saw the most diverse collection of designs, and while some might not appeal to everyone (personally I didn’t care too much for the “rolling pyramid” design of the Brabham BT44) on the whole it produced some very attractive cars.

    1. Rick DeNatale
      29th June 2009, 16:13

      Oh, and I forgot to mention the Lotus 72-D, particularly in JPS livery.

    2. Notice no-one has come up with the Brabham BT46B.
      That may be because the only place you could see it from was directly in front. From anywhere else you were showered with muck & rubbish ;)

  20. F1 Outsider
    29th June 2009, 16:39

    50’s = Mercedes-Benz W196

    60’s = Dan Gurney’s AAR Eagle Weslake V12.

    70’s = Lotus JPS 1972

    80’s = McLaren Mp4/4

    90’s = McLaren Mp4/14

    Current = McLaren MP4/23

    1. I agree with your choice for the 80’s, I think It looks great. As do a all the McLaren’s from that era.

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