Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As such everyone will always have a different idea of what the most beautiful cars in the world are. But you can always have a go at working out which are, objectively the best looking, and in most case, therefore, the most beautiful. Here are nine that make our list.
The best‑looking F1 cars of all time
This list is in no particular order, but I would imagine that for many reading the Jordan 191 is right at the very top. Some beautiful cars have grown in stature over the years because of their achievements, but the 191 was never a particularly good car. Instead what has helped Jordan’s first-ever F1 car to legendary status is that it launched the career of one Michael Schumacher.
That said, even if the famous German had not raced the 191 it would still be worthy of a place on this list. As one of the last few low-nosed F1 cars before the creep of suspended wings took over. The 191 is smooth and sleek, with an interesting concave front wing and a triple-bladed rear setup. It was also swathed in a stunningly simple, green-and-blue livery courtesy of sponsor 7Up and patriotic Irish owner Eddie Jordan.
While Schumacher’s incredible debut performance is the one that everyone remembers, actually the rest of the season wasn’t as stellar for the 191, but seven points finishes for a team in its debut season is not to be sniffed at. In fact, it finished fifth overall.
Apparently the idea of “fast is beautiful” has been thrown out of the window for these first couple of entries, but come on, just look at the Shadow DN7. There’s a good chance it’s helped by Shadow’s brilliant pure-black livery, which can hide a million offences, but the DN7 itself is pure automotive class.
High-airbox F1 cars do, at times, split opinion, but I think they’re fantastic, and the DN7 is the pick of the bunch. The body is low and sleek. In fact, the sidepods will barely rise above your ankle, but they curve in a very un-1970s F1 style over the body and around the driver. Then the high airbox, replete with its reversed US flag, is thin, like an arrow cutting through the air.
Was it good? No. The near-identical DN5 was used for most of the season in 1975, powered by a ubiquitous Cosworth DFV. But for a pair of races at higher speed courses the team opted to switch to a Matra-built V12 engine. The V12 DN7, with longer sidepods than the DN5, failed to finish either race after qualifying outside of the top ten. The presence of that screaming V12 helps to tip it onto this list just ahead of the DN5.
Like the Shadow family, pretty much any of the FWs 14, 14B or 15 could be in this list. They’re all variations on the same basic design by Adrian Newey and all contribute to one of the greatest legacies in motorsport for Williams.
We will take the 14B because of what it means to us (well, me). It was my first F1 love and, as a three-year-old, I watched Red 5 storm to the title. Of course, to my toddler eyes there was no registering how big that was: a man who had already retired from the sport once finally clinching his first World Championship. But, the car made a young boy absolutely fall in love with the sport.
The Williams FW14B has a livery that, objectively, should be a bit awful. Yellow and blue and red and white, just really shouldn’t go together. But on the sleep, championship-winning form of the 14B, it just works. Filled with the kinds of technology banned today (traction control, active suspension) and winning five races in a row at the start of the 1992 season it’s not only one of the most stunning racing cars ever, but one of the best.
The Ligier JS/11 was fast, when it worked. Sadly the not-working days were as prevalent as the fast days, but it took five wins in 29 races from 1979 to 1980. In fact, the JS/11 was bad, because it was so good – which is, of course, one hell of an oxymoron. The design, making pretty much the whole car a wing, in an extension of Colin Chapman’s harnessing of ground effect, produced so much downforce it stressed other components to breaking point.
But it is that purity of design that makes the JS/11 so enticing. Obviously, you need to view it in no-wing configuration – ground effect cars often ran with no front spoiler to avoid bothering the air under the car – to see it in its true form. The whole car’s wing shape is obvious, with only a pair of small fins and the rear wing adding any extra bits to its surface.
Beauty can be enhanced by success, but definitely helped by purity of design.
There are two McLaren entries in this list, and both are clothed in the iconic 1997-2005 silver and black livery brought by West cigarette sponsorship. The first is the MP4-20, the car that so nearly took Kimi Räikkönen to a first F1 championship in 2005.
That year’s crown, which would end Michael Schumacher’s long run of F1 titles, was eventually won by Fernando Alonso in a Renault, just edging out Kimi as the future Ferrari team-mates finished on seven race wins each. The McLaren was the looker of the field though, the latest F1 car to make it to this list and the last McLaren to be wholly-overseen by Adrian Newey.
At a time when front wings were getting awkwardly high due to regulations and the cars were beginning to sprout more and more winglets, the MP4/20 just about retains the best of both worlds. A low, wide nose just about meets that front wing and Newey’s obsession with compactness is showcased by the ultra-slim raised central airbox and sidepods. For us, the best thing remains the Viking horn elements, the diagonal to vertical fins either side of the airbox which just look cool.
I very nearly included the Lotus 76 here instead of the 72. Purely because of the fact that it’s basically a refined 72 with, count them, two rear wings. But then reality hit and the fact that a) the 76 was an unmitigated disaster and b) the shape of the 72 was pretty much perfect swerved me back to the legend.
We’ve written at length about the 72’s successes, and even have several videos on it, but in pure aesthetic terms it really is form following function and being all the better for it. The 72 is a wedge, slicing through the air like a knife, with a rear wing perched at the back. But as opposed to later cars, the wings don’t feel like additions, the 72’s spoilers are very much part of the overall shape of the car.
The 72 also wins on liveries, bringing together two of the all-time greats. Everyone knows the sight of a Lotus (be it 72, 79 or others) in a John Player Special livery, but initially the 72 took over the same red-and-gold livery of its predecessor, the 49, and it looks incredible in either.
Gurney Eagle T1G
There are a couple of inherent biases in this list. The first being simply that the first F1 cars I can recall were racing in 1991, so cars from then on sit stronger in my memory, the second is that the classic ‘60s F1 shape, the cigar with wheels... well it just doesn’t do anything for me. The period of 1960-1967, where cars had weedy little 1.5-litre engines and skinny tyres, they just don’t appeal.
All that changed in 1966 – there’s a reason that season was called “the return to power”. Engines swelled to 3.0-litres, tyres got chunkier to deal with the extra power and everything started to look generally more purposeful. Dan Gurney’s Eagle Mk1 is the very best looking car of this era.
Carrying the better proportions of a post-1965 car, still with engines exposed and sculptural exhausts, the Gurney’s body just set everything off. It’s hard to pin down just what is so good about it, but the gently pointed nose is probably the easiest thing to point too, a feature that seems to have been designed in an era of pure cylinders.
The second McLaren on this list clinched the team’s second Drivers’ title in a row with Mika Häkkinen. It’s extremely similar to the predecessor, the MP4/13, but just attempts to refine almost everything. It’s perhaps not surprising the MP4/14 looks so good and went so well, considering it was designed by Adrian Newey and Steve Nichols, a pair of the greatest motorsport designers of all time.
In design terms, it’s almost a mix between the Williams FW14B and the Lotus 72. The dropped wing era was well underway by 1999, but McLaren’s designs of ’98 and ’99 sharpened everything into a wedge. The nose attacks the road like a spear, at a very sharpened point, the sidepods are sharp and square, attempting to pull air through to the rear wing.
While it was less successful than the MP4/13 – reliability and driver errors meant that Ferrari won the 1999 Constructor’s title – and the MP4/15 looked a lot like it, the 14 was the one that just made the concept look best.
If I hadn’t included this car in this list at least half of our office would probably have lynched me. The rest of you would probably have had some kind of coronary had I gone through a list of nine F1 stunners without including a single Ferrari. So, here, to fulfil everyone’s needs, is the Ferrari 641.
The Sharknose could perhaps have made it into the list, but I refer you to my comments at the start of the Gurney Eagle Mk1 section. The 641 is the cleanest example of modern winged F1 design the sport has ever, or no doubt, will ever see.
It’s a toss-up to decide if the 641 or the predecessor 640 get a place here. In fact, the only real difference is that the 640 ran for a lot of its life without the airbox intake, a feature that the 641 was born with and which, I think, makes it look all the better. It was also quite good, Alain Prost only missed out on winning a fourth F1 crown when Ayrton Senna drove into him at the Japanese Grand Prix.
As we’ve said a few times, there are cars that quite easily could have made this list, but just missed out. Which ones do you think should have done? Let us know in the comments.
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images
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