Eye of the Beholder: Formula One's 10 Most Beautiful Cars
Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. My wife, as an example, believes that no car—no matter what make, model or racing code—can be beautiful; it’s horses that float her boat.
Those of us who live in the real world, however, know that there is nothing in the world more beautiful than a Formula One car—excepting the obvious, of course.
It’s difficult to make an F1 car that isn’t a work of art, but some stand out from the crowd.
What follows is the best-of-the-best, the elite of the Formula One pedigree—the most beautiful F1 cars ever built.
10. Ferrari F2007
The Ferrari F1 Team is exactly like the people who buy their road cars—they are brash, arrogant, and obsessively self-absorbed. Unfortunately, they build beautiful race cars, and the F2007 is no exception.
The only car in this list to have been built since the turn of the millennium (just keeping out the McLaren MP4/20), the F2007 is an engineering masterpiece—as are all cars of the modern era—but this Ferrari stands out from the pack.
The car is famous for carting Kimi Raikkonen to his world championship and Ferrari to a constructor’s championship.
Viewed from above, the car did have a strong resemblance to a "bad guys" spaceship from a Star Trek movie—with sinister looking bits sticking out all over the place—but in motion it had the look of a predator.
To finish the picture, it was topped off with the eye-catching deep red livery that has become synonymous with the famous marque.
Not everyone’s cup of tea, perhaps, but for mine it’s in the top ten.
9. Arrows A2 (1979)
Have you ever met someone who doesn’t fit any of the definitions of a classic beauty and yet is still powerfully attractive?
The Arrows A2 could well be the Uma Thurman of the F1 world.
The 1970s were an aesthetic wasteland from an F1 perspective, but the A2—and a perhaps a handful of Lotuses (Lotii?)—stood apart as victors for beauty in the ongoing battle between form and function.
From some angles, it appears that it could be a prototype military vehicle and there’s a fair suspicion that Batman’s Tumbler may have taken some inspiration from those ridiculously massive rear tyres.
It also pioneered the mounting of the engine at a four-degree angle, something adopted by Ferrari in their current car, the F10.
Conceptually, it was brilliant making the front wings into winglets and bringing them inboard and maximizing the body size so as to maximize the benefit of the ground effects skirts.
Converting the concept into on-road performance, however, seemed somewhat more challenging. The car terrified its unfortunate drivers and was all but undriveable on bumpy roads with the car breaking ‘suction’ at inopportune moments.
It was a dismal failure as a race car, but this list isn’t about who got to the chequered flag first.
8. Williams FW16 (1994)
The FW16 will be forever be associated with the death of Ayrton Senna. Despite that, it was a beautiful car. It was the last of the F1 cars with a proper nose and it was the first one with the uber-stylish Rothmans livery.
The car was problematic, with designer Adrian Newey referring to it as a “bloody awful cock-up.”
The return to non-assisted suspension, after two years of active suspension, apparently proving to be more difficult than imagined. This, coupled with some aero package issues resulted in a car that was challenging to drive.
Despite this, Damon Hill still managed to fall just one point short of claiming the championship from Michael Schumacher after the German had speared his car into Hill at the Flinders Street corner on the Adelaide street circuit.
7. BRM P160 (1971)
After declaring the 1970’s a disaster zone for aesthetics, the BRM P160 comes in at No. 7 to prove me wrong.
It was one of the last cars to avoid the ludicrous, jester’s hat airboxes that became the must-have accessory for an F1 car through to around 1976.
Its shovel nose, simple wings and understated, predominantly white livery complemented the rounded sidepods to deliver a car that was the standout of the 1971 series and the last car to not induce nausea for almost a decade.
6. Maserati 250F (1957)
Any car driven by Stirling Moss, Juan Manuel Fangio, and Alberto Ascari has some serious credibility in the F1 world. Add to that the name Maserati and you have an instant classic—or you did in 1957, anyway.
With the silver Mercedes W196, these were the product of a simpler, but infinitely more elegant, times. They bring back memories of grainy footage of the legends of the sport, drifting the cars through corners. They don’t drive like that any more.
The front engined rocket took the 1957 world championship with Fangio at the helm and cemented its place in history.
While it was soon out-evolved, as is the way in F1, by Ferrari and the nimble Cooper Climax (is there a better name for a race car?), it had stamped its name indelibly into the history books.
5. Brabham BT52 (1983)
When the FIA finally decided to tell the constructors to lift their skirts and brought to an end the ground-effects era, the cars had to radically redesigned to account for the changes in aerodynamic performance.
Gone were the ridiculously large side pods which, without skirts, generated lift, rather than downforce.
Brabham dived into this new era with the spectacular, arrow shaped BT52 in the understated blue and white Parmalat livery. The car was bolted to an insane, turbocharged BMW engine that was capable of 1300 brake horsepower in qualifying configuration and carried Nelson Piquet to his second world championship.
4. McLaren MP4/5 (1989)
In the now universally recognized Marlboro livery, the MP4/5 absolutely dominated the 1989 season, despite the simmering feud between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost that threatened to derail their progress towards the driver’s and constructor’s championships.
The MP4/5 took pole position in 15 of the 16 races and won 10. The Prost-Senna rivalry drove development of the car at a ridiculous pace and left their competitors in their wake.
It also resulted in some bitter battles that inevitably ended up in a tangle at the side of the Suzuka track.
The car itself was a work of art. The smooth flowing lines, clear of the ticks, twitches and protuberances that mark the modern cars. The simple red and white paint scheme, which television never adequately captured, is iconic.
3. Lotus 97T (1985)
The Lotus 97T was one of the last of the stunning black and gold John Player Special cars that started with the 72 and finished with the 98T.
It was a livery widely believed to be the best ever on an F1 car and the 97T was a magnificent example of the series, eclipsing its successor by virtue of the chromed rims looked infinitely better than the black ones.
The 97T stood apart from the earlier 72, 77, 78, and 79 models in that it was more tapered, not the flattened shape that was typical of the 1970s.
It was designed by Gerard Ducarouge, the man responsible for the absolutely hideous Ligier JS5 with its Papa Smurf hat airbox, but he redeemed himself with the Lotus cars of the eighties.
2. Anglo American Racing Eagle (1967)
The hand of former Lotus designer Len Terry was very evident in this gem from the golden-era of F1. It was built by Dan Gurney and the legendary Carroll Shelby as an “All American” tilt at the world of Formula One.
In those days, before the advent of wings, the elegant simplicity of design, form and function was what it was all about. The design focused on creating mechanical grip and a platform for drivers to show off real driving skills.
Again, it wasn’t a particularly brilliant race car—it was hamstrung by reliability problems—but from the eagle’s beak nose, to the exotic alloy tailpipes, it was a stunningly beautiful car.
1. Lotus 49 (1967)
The fact that the two most beautiful cars in F1 history raced against each other is an unlikely, but nonetheless real, coincidence. The fact that the cars looked strikingly similar, thanks to the influence of Len Terry, made comparisons inevitable.
The 49 became the backbone for the Lotus team’s first tentative steps into the world of wings and served them through until 1970 when it was replaced with the Lotus 72.
As with the Eagle, it was the apparent simplicity of design, without the electronics, wind tunnels, wings and other aids that makes these cars so special.
They were still complex by the standards of the day, but by modern standards they were almost horse-and-buggy technology.
But, with the distinctive green and gold livery, it was the most beautiful horse and buggy to ever take to a race track.
The other end of the evolutionary scale
Not all F1 cars are things of beauty and throughout the sports history, there's been some absolute shockers.
For the worst-of-the-worst, take a look at