In Formula 1, what matters is being the fastest, that’s for sure. They say fast cars are beautiful, even if they don’t seem so initially. Whether true or not, this article reviews some of the best liveries in F1 history.
Many of them have become iconic simply because of their beautiful design, regardless of the car’s performance, while others have gone down in history for being associated with a legendary driver or a dominating stage.
Be that as it may, here we have what we think are the best F1 liveries of all time.
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1. 1988 McLaren
This is perhaps the most iconic car in Formula 1. This car will surely ring a bell even if you are not an F1 fan. The McLaren team was sponsored by Marlboro from 1974 to 1994 and practically always had the same livery, with the car painted white and two red stripes, one on the front and one on the rear, simulating a cigarette box.
However, the 1988 MP4/4 with which Ayrton Senna won his first world championship is the ultimate representation of this livery. The combination of the clean design of the car together with the yellow helmet of the legendary Brazilian driver is simply spectacular and timeless.
In addition, the design and shapes of the MP4/4 make it the car where this classic livery fits best.
2. 1991 Ferrari
The 1991 Ferrari is the pinnacle of the livery that Ferrari used for much of the 1980s and 1990s. Driven by Alain Prost and Jean Alesi, this car has a relatively simple and classic design but works very well.
The car is red, like all Ferraris, and the front and rear wings are black, creating one of the most stylish color combinations. The sponsors complete this livery with the blue FIAT logo, the Marlboro logo on the engine cover, and Agip and Goodyear, giving it a hint of yellow throughout the car.
And if you are observant, you will have noticed that the 2022 Ferrari livery has been inspired by this classic design, which has delighted everyone.
3. 1992 Williams
With 10 wins and 21 podiums, 15 pole positions, and 11 fastest laps during the 1992 season, the FW14B is one of the most dominant cars in the history of Formula 1, and it is also one of the most iconic cars of all.
It was driven by Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese, who came 1st and 2nd respectively in the championship, and its mix of blue, white, yellow, and red makes it one of the sexiest cars ever.
It is dark blue on the front, while the sides are white, and on top, Camel tobacco yellow and white are separated by a blue stripe. And the red Canon letters next to Mansell’s “Red 5” are the icing on the cake. A perfect livery for a perfect car made for a perfect season for the British.
4. 1986 Lotus
Team Lotus had during the 70s and 80s what is considered by many to be the most iconic livery in motorsports. Mainly sponsored by the tobacco company John Player Special, the car is black with all the numbers, letters, and logos in gold.
That color combination will always work and never disappoints and has inspired many other liveries in Formula 1 and other categories, such as the Haas of 2019.
For the 1986 season, Lotus featured Ayrton Senna and Johnny Dumfries as drivers, and, as with the 1988 McLaren, the Brazilian’s legendary helmet looks simply spectacular in this iconic livery. Black and gold will always be associated with Formula 1 thanks to this classic, iconic and elegant livery.
5. 2007 McLaren
Perhaps 2007 will not be remembered as the best year for McLaren since they were disqualified from the constructors’ championship due to the famous “Spygate” case and threw away the drivers’ title due to the internal fight between Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. Still, it was the beginning of the sponsorship with Vodafone, which would leave us one of the best liveries of all time.
From 2007 to 2013, Vodafone was McLaren’s primary sponsor, and they used a silver livery with red on the front and rear wings and the sides. You simply cannot dislike this combination.
This livery is a beauty on the 2007 car, and the spicy history makes it one of the modern classics and one of the most beautiful cars ever. The orange livery McLaren has now is cool, but maybe if they bring back the silver, they can create a new combination just as beautiful as with Vodafone.
6. 1990 Lotus
After leaving its classic John Player Special livery, Lotus went on to have another spectacular and equally iconic livery, but this time with the Camel tobacco company. The livery is one of the simplest, with the whole car being yellow and the Camel logos in dark blue, but it just looks sick.
And on top of that, the body design of the 1992 Lotus 102, with massive wings and huge wheels, makes the physical look of this car spectacular. It has a classic, aggressive and fast look and is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cars in F1 history.
7. 2005 Renault
The 2005 Renault was the car in which Fernando Alonso won his first world championship and is quite similar to the 2006 car in which he won the title for the second consecutive time.
The Renault R25 is quite recognizable for its combination of blue and yellow, and I think that is a color palette that we should see more of in F1 cars.
The car is mostly a lovely sky blue, brought in by tobacco sponsor Mild Seven, with a yellow stripe on the nose and sides. The rear wing is dark blue due to the Spanish telecommunications company Telefónica.
Undoubtedly, it has become one of the modern classics of F1. As a curious fact, the flag of the region where Fernando Alonso comes from, Asturias, is also yellow and blue, like this car, and they are the colors with which the Spanish driver is most identified.
8. 2002 Ferrari
This is perhaps the most famous Ferrari of all, and the one that everyone imagines when they think of a Ferrari F1 car, whether they are a fan or not. And it is not for less, because this car represents the best time of the Maranello team in Formula 1.
The iconic body shape with the Marlboro-sponsored red and white colors makes for a beautiful and timeless car. From 2000 to 2004, Ferrari and Michael Schumacher completely dominated the sport, and the German driver went down in history for winning 7 titles, including 5 in a row with Ferrari.
During those years, the car’s design didn’t really change much, but we think this is the most beautiful of all because of its shape, and it is associated with the Prancing Horse’s ultimate glory.
9. 2009 Brawn GP
Brawn GP is one of the most unique teams of all time. And it is that Brawn GP, in statistical terms, is the most successful team in the history of F1, with a 100% success rate, since it only raced in one season, 2009, winning both the drivers’ and the constructors’ titles.
Ross Brown bought Honda at the end of 2008. Without much hope due to its moderate budget and lack of investors, Brawn GP was the team that best took advantage of the regulation changes in 2009. To everyone’s surprise, they were the fastest, with 8 victories and 7 podiums and Jenson Button becoming world champion.
In this case, it may be true that being the best car of that year has made its design beautiful. Earlier in the season, the team presented a completely white car without sponsors, with some hint of fluorescent green on the nosecone, front wing, and wheel hubcaps.
It’s a weird combination of colors, but it works. With the team’s success, many new sponsors were brought in throughout the season, and in the last race, the car was no longer as empty as it was at the beginning.
10. 1968 Lotus
This car is one of the first iconic cars in F1 and was the one with which Graham Hill won his second world title. In addition, this livery, apart from its elegant and timeless appearance, hides behind a story unknown to many.
The red, white, and gold of the Lotus 49 are due to the characteristic colors of its main sponsor: Gold Leaf cigarettes. The significance of this livery is that, up to that point, all cars were painted in classic racing colors and national flags, and Gold Leaf Cigarettes became F1’s first corporate sponsor.
From that moment on, big companies soon arrived, sponsoring teams with their colors and promoting various products, especially addictive ones such as tobacco. Big tobacco companies like Marlboro, Camel, or John Player Special began to sponsor various teams.
11. 1991 Jordan
The Jordan 191 was the debut car for the Jordan team, which during its existence until 2005, achieved 4 wins, 19 podiums, 2 pole positions, and 2 fastest laps. In their first season, they finished 5th in the constructors’ championship, with Andrea De Cesaris 9th in the drivers’, not bad for a new team.
This car was painted a distinctive light green, a color we don’t see much on race cars, combined with blue on the sides, and sponsored by 7up, very 90’s style.
And what makes this livery more beautiful is the shape of the bodywork: its arched front wing has made it an iconic car, plus the little fin on the back of the airbox makes it a satisfying car to look at.
12. 2015 Williams
After several poor seasons, Williams started the hybrid era in 2014 quite strongly, with the Mercedes engine, finishing 3rd in the constructors’ championship in 2014 and 2015. But what stood out the most was the livery they carried from 2014 to 2018.
During those years, Williams was sponsored by Martini, bringing back its iconic white livery with the famous red and blue lines around it. It is impossible not to like this decoration, as it is incredibly beautiful and has always been associated with racing cars.
In 1975, the Brabham F1 team, sponsored by Martini, used this livery, which later left its mark on motorsport with the Lancia LC1, LC2, and Delta during the 1980s, so Martini will always be associated with the world of racing. As for the 2014 to 2018 Williams, we think the 2015 car is the best-looking one.
13. 2013 Red Bull
Red Bull marked an era in Formula 1 from 2010 to 2013, winning four constructors’ and drivers’ titles, with Sebastian Vettel, in a row. The 2010 and 2012 seasons were close until the last race, but in 2011 and 2013, there was absolute dominance by the Austrian team and the German driver.
Although Red Bull always carries similar liveries, the 2013 car is the epitome of its dominance in F1 and a true modern icon. To us, it’s the best-looking Red Bull ever: the yellow nose, the Red Bull logo on the engine cover, the purple sidepods for Infini sponsorship, and the red and white side racing lines make it a true beauty.
And although many criticize the continuity of Red Bull with its liveries, in a couple of decades, we will look back and think the same as when we now see the McLaren Marlboro or the Lotus John Special Player, which always looked the same but are now loved by all the fans.
14. 2021 Mclaren Gulf
In 2021, McLaren surprised the world with this one-off livery for the Monaco Grand Prix
as part of their partnership with Gulf Oil. The cars sported the iconic Gulf light racing blue and orange color scheme in homage to timeless Gulf design, making it not one of the most spectacular designs in decades but in all of history.
Based on the classic Gulf design, the colors had already inspired other classic liveries such as the #41 McLaren F1 GTR Longtail, which finished second in the 1997 Le Mans 24 Hours, or the legendary Ford GT40 during many of its early Le Man’s victories.
Gulf and McLaren have a long and successful racing history, and the two brands revived their relationship in July 2020 when McLaren announced the brand’s return as an official strategic partner.
Gulf colors were present on the cars and in the team wear and drivers’ suits, and the team launched limited-edition merchandise on their online store. In addition, the livery was matched by retro helmet designs from Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo, forming a beautiful vintage and timeless combination.
And this very special weekend ended with Lando Norris finishing third in the race, marking one of the team’s most special weekends in recent years. I wish we could see this livery more often because it is truly a work of art.
15. 2005 McLaren
Starting in 1997, after leaving Marlboro, McLaren changed the iconic white and red livery to silver, partnering with tobacco company West, and marking a significant era for the British team, winning the drivers’ title in 1998 and 1999 with Mika Hakkinen.
McLaren maintained their alliance with West and this classic livery until 2005, a year in which we believe they achieved the ideal combination between that livery and the car.
The McLaren MP4-20, driven by Kimi Raikkonen, runner-up that year, and Juan Pablo Montoya, is an elegant combination of silver and black on the sides, with a hint of red on the front wing and West branding on the sidepods. It was a reasonably fast car, although unreliable.
In addition to being pretty, this livery marked the foundations of what would be the livery they used until 2013 with Vodafone, mixing silver with red.
16. 1998 Jordan
In 1996, Jordan was sponsored by tobacco company Benson & Hedges, which turned the car gold in its first year and then yellow and black. The cars were yellow and black on the sidepods with Benson & Hedges branding.
During that time, tobacco advertising began to be banned in F1, and tobacco sponsors had to disappear for certain races. Benson & Hedges started putting slogans on the car like Buzzin Hornets or Be On Edge at those races to keep themselves subliminally present.
Because of this, the team added a wasp to the nosecone, giving the car an aggressive and rather cool look. The one from 1998 was the most aggressive since they painted the nosecone black. That car was ready to attack with its stinger as it raced down the track.
17. 2016 Manor
This is a clear example that a beautiful car does not necessarily have to be fast. From 2010 to 2016, Manor (formerly Virgin and Marussia) was always among the backmarkers and had financing problems on many occasions.
In 2016, their last season, they built a car that looked incredibly fast but was the slowest on the grid. This livery, blue below, on the sides, red at the front, and the engine cover, divided by a white line, together with a classy logo and bodywork, make it an exquisite and aesthetic car. However, the performance was not up to par.
18. 1987 Minardi
This is another clear example of how a slow car can still be beautiful. Minardi raced in F1 from 1985 to 2005. Despite never being successful or having competitive cars, it was a well-liked team for its friendliness, accessibility, and lack of corporate culture.
Minardi was also a team that went through many liveries, and the 1987 one was just gorgeous.
The Minardi M187 was black on top and bottom, with a thick yellow stripe running from the nosecone to the rear wing, and the sidepods were also yellow. Also, almost all the sponsors put their logos in black or white without breaking the harmony of the livery.
It is a livery that resembles the one that Renault used between 2018 and 2020, and I do not doubt that this Minardi inspired the French.
19. 1994 Sauber
The Sauber C13, driven mainly by Heinz-Herald Frentzen and Andrea de Cesaris, is a car with a very particular and little-known livery. During that time, Sauber had a relatively basic and empty black and white livery without any special elements.
However, for the 1994 season, watch brand Tissot became the team’s main sponsor, adding to Sauber’s standard black and white livery a white polka dot gradient that makes it unique and different from the rest since I do not remember any F1 car with polka dots.
A large Tissot watch was also painted on the front of the car, which is a very cool and original form of advertising. In general, the car looks quite stylish and different from any other car.
20. 2022 Alpha Tauri
After Toro Rosso was renamed Alpha Tauri in 2020 and changed all its logos and colors, the Faenza team switched to navy blue and white, a very elegant combination that usually gives good liveries in general.
In 2020 the car was predominantly white on the front while navy blue on the rear, and in 2021 navy blue gained prominence over white. They were both very nice liveries, but in 2022 they have just nailed it.
For the 2022 season, the design is similar to 2021, but now the Alpha Tauri logo on the engine cover is blue on white instead of white on blue. This gives a better balance to the livery, as the navy blue is not as predominant as before, and we think that Alpha Tauri has created a perfect livery by the third try.
What do you think of these liveries? Which is your favorite? A car does not necessarily have to be fast to be good-looking, as we have seen, and there are many hidden gems in history that many people are unaware of, as well as other rarer and more daring designs.
These articles are very subjective and complex to order; we may not agree with many of them, but I hope that you have at least discovered new cars that you did not know about or looked at those that you did know from a different perspective.