Liveries are unique and special elements of F1 cars since it is how we differentiate one team from another at first glance, and many of them become their hallmark. Over the years, F1 teams have made changes or renewed their liveries, some with more daring designs while others with more traditional ones.
Money is essential in Formula 1, and usually, the liveries reflect the teams’ sponsors. Some liveries are cleaner, while others are more loaded with logos and advertising. Some teams like Ferrari keep their main colors with variations over the years, while others make significant changes to their liveries from time to time, even changing their color palette.
Although sometimes these liveries can get a bit boring or repetitive, there have been times when designers and teams have tried more different and crazy things for certain specific races for various reasons, be it sponsorship deals, celebrations, or commemorations.
Many of these special liveries have become memorable due to their originality and design. They have stuck in fans’ minds, either because they were very sexy or just plain awful. Today we’ll go over some of the best one-off liveries in F1 history.
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1. McLaren – 2021 Monaco Grand Prix
In the 2021 season, McLaren surprised the world with this special 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 just one of the most spectacular designs in decades but 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 Mans 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 driver 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.
2. Red Bull – 2021 Turkish GP
Last season we also saw a very special livery from Red Bull. 2021 was the last year in F1 for its power-unit supplier Honda. At the Turkish GP, which should have been held in Suzuka (it was canceled due to the pandemic), Honda’s home race, the energy drink team raced in unique liveries in homage to Honda’s F1 journey.
The Red Bull cars of Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez featured a predominantly white livery contrasted with red Red Bull logos, referencing the Japanese flag. The livery was inspired by the legendary Honda RA 272 car, driven by American Richie Ginther, which took the company’s first F1 victory at the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix.
AlphaTauri cars, Red Bull’s junior team in F1, and which has also been powered by Honda, featured a one-word message ありがとう (arigato) meaning “thank you” on the rear wings. The Turkish GP ended with a double podium for Red Bull, with a third-place for Pérez and a second for Verstappen, who, thanks to Hamilton’s fifth place, was able to get ahead of him in the championship.
The alliance with Honda began in 2018 with AlphaTauri (then Toro Rosso) and later in 2019 with Red Bull. It has been a success, as together, they have achieved 16 victories, 45 podiums, 13 pole positions, and the 2021 drivers’ championship with Max Verstappen. And although Honda has left, it will help Red Bull develop their engines until 2025.
3. Mercedes – 2019 German Grand Prix
The 2019 German GP was held at the Hockenheim circuit. Apart from being the title sponsors of the race, Mercedes also celebrated its motorsport activity’s one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary.
The German manufacturer went with a commemorative livery with the front of the cars painted white before peeling into silver, in reference to its early racing cars in the 1930s that were painted white, before becoming the “Silver Arrows.” It had a relatively clean design and was very pretty.
Additionally, all mechanics and team staff dressed in vintage clothing, and Team Principal Toto Wolff dressed as legendary Mercedes boss Alfred Neubauer, who ran the team from 1926 to 1955.
This weekend of celebration turned into one of the team’s worst-ever weekends, as Valtteri Bottas retired in the first after crashing. Lewis Hamilton finished ninth after colliding into the barriers and making one of the worst pit stops ever seen.
And if that wasn’t enough, this was the race where they decided to allow Netflix “Drive to survive” through access to the team. After this nightmare weekend, Toto Wolff declared that the team would not run with any more special liveries.
4. Red Bull – 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix
As with Mercedes, this special Red Bull livery didn’t go quite well. The 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix was David Coulthard’s last Formula 1 race, and the Austrian team prepared a special livery for the Scottish driver.
The team opted for an all-white color scheme to promote and raise money for Red Bull’s “Wings for Life,” a non-profit foundation that supports promising research projects and clinical studies.
The race was one of the most epic and dramatic in decades, with Lewis Hamilton clinching the title at the final corner, but unfortunately for David Coulthard’s Red Bull, it didn’t last long. Exactly two corners, after the Scot, after starting in fourteenth position, was hit by the Williams of Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima, thus ending Coulthard’s racing career, not as he would have liked.
Coulthard was a key element in the energy drink team’s early years, joining the team in its first year in 2005, and with his experience, he helped develop the cars until 2008. He also scored the team’s first podium finish at the 2006 Monaco GP, with a third place.
5. Jaguar – 2004 Monaco Grand Prix
In this position, we have one of the most bizarre promotions in Formula 1. For the 2004 Monaco Grand Prix, the British Jaguar team sponsored the film Ocean’s Twelve, which was shown that same year. What better way to promote a movie about casino robberies and luxury than at the Monaco GP, the most glamorous and exclusive race on the calendar.
The team unveiled a special livery combining Jaguar’s iconic green with red paint on the nose and engine cover featuring the film’s title and cast. The stars of the film, Brad Pitt and George Clooney, among others, were in and around the paddock, and the drivers had special black overalls.
But the red paint didn’t seem luxurious enough, and on top of that, the team placed real diamonds on the front wings of the cars, one for Christian Klien and one for Mark Webber, plus two more for the extra cars that some teams carried for Monaco at the time.
The team made a deal with Steinmetz for the diamonds, estimated to be worth around $300,000 each. Everyone thought it was good to place diamonds in one of the most vulnerable parts of an F1 car on one of the tightest and most challenging circuits.
The whole weekend was a nightmare for Jaguar. Webber’s engine broke in free practice sessions, and the diamond was soaked by the fire extinguisher, while Klien and the reserve driver collided with the walls, although the diamond came out intact on that day.
On Sunday, Webber started 11th on the grid and Klien 15th, and in a short time, tragedy struck. Klien broke the front wing in 6 corners. At Mirabeau, he crashed into Heidfield’s Jordan, and at Loebs, he couldn’t turn the car as he had the wing stuck in the steering and went straight into the barriers.
The diamond disappeared, so there are three options: it was swallowed by a car if it fell before Loebs, or it was broken by crashing into the barriers, or some cunning marshal took it away.
To top off the weekend, Webber retired after eleven laps. The team manager said that beyond the result, at least they left their mark on Monaco, and boy did they. Steinmetz struck the following year again in Monaco, but this time they learned their lesson and placed the diamonds on Kimi Raikkonen’s helmet.
6. Ferrari – 1964 American And Mexican Grand Prix
Ferrari has always raced in red, right? Well, not exactly. In a fit of rage, Enzo Ferrari abandoned the Italian colors for the final two races of the 1964 championship, races that propelled one of the most iconic legends in Formula 1 history to success.
The story begins in 1962, when Ferrari wanted to homologate, under the supervision of the FIA and the Italian national motorsport body (ACI), their 250 GTO to compete in GT racing.
According to the Italian rules of the time, manufacturers had to build 100 road-going models of a car to be allowed to race. According to popular legends, Ferrari had a little trick up its sleeve, and that is that during the supervision of the cars in different areas, the FIA counted the necessary cars, that is to say, 100, but in reality, the Italians moved the same group of cars from place to place to make it look like they had 100.
When in 1964 Ferrari wanted to homologate its new car, the 250 LM, the FIA denied them eligibility after protests from rival teams.
It was then that, after the ACI did not back him up, Enzo Ferrari flew into a rage, saying that the Prancing Horse would never be painted in rosso corsa, the national racing colors of Italy, ever again. And it is that in those years, the cars used the national colors and not independent liveries, for which the Ferrari proposal supposed a confrontation between Italy and the FIA.
Ferrari entered the season’s final races under a new banner, the North American Racing Team, a satellite company of Ferrari with which it had achieved significant sportscar success in the US. The cars were painted in the blue and white of the United States instead of the red of Italy.
Ferrari driver and championship contender John Surtees finished second in both races and won the world title that season. He became the first and so far only person to win world championships on both two and four wheels and the only person to win a championship in a non-red Ferrari.
7. Ligier – 1993 Japanese and Australian Grand Prix
Ligier was a French F1 team that raced between 1976 and 1996. It was predominantly a midfield team, although it had competitive years like 1979 and 1980, and they achieved a total of 9 wins, 50 podiums, and 9 pole positions.
Since its entry into F1, Ligier had carried the same colors: blue and white, and since then, the team has been sponsored by the French brand of cigarettes Gitanes, which means “gypsy woman” in French, and whose logo was a dancing woman with a traditional dress of Spain and South of France. In 1996 Gitanes was replaced by sister company Gauloises.
For the last two races of 1993, the tobacco company contacted Italian comics author Hugo Pratt, best known for creating Corto Maltese, to design a special livery for Martin Brundle’s #25 car.
The result was an abstract mixture of geometric shapes and color patches. The car was predominantly blue, as always, with black and white details. All other sponsor logos except Gitanes were gone, and its name was written in huge letters along the car. The logo of the dancing woman was painted on the engine cover and the nose cone.
You can hate it or love it, but you have to recognize that it is something truly original and creative and still kept the essence of the team.
8. Alfa Romeo – 2021 Italian Grand Prix
Alfa Romeo celebrated its 111-year history at the 2021 Italian Grand Prix. For that weekend, the team changed up its red and white livery, included some flashes of “Quadrifoglio” green, and added a 111 on the engine over colored in the Italian flag.
The drivers’ race suits were also styled to match the cars, and driver Antonio Giovinazzi sported a stylish new helmet design.
It was not a very drastic change, but it was a livery that looked spectacular since the normal livery was already stunning. When sporting the Italian Tricolore flag, the cars looked very elegant and had a clean and classic design.
9. Red Bull – 2005 Monaco Grand Prix
The Monaco Grand Prix is the ideal place to promote something like a movie. During Red Bull’s first season in Formula 1, in 2005, at the Monaco Grand Prix, the team promoted Star Wars episode three, “Revenge of the Sith,” which premiered that year.
There was Star Wars branding all over the car with flames on the sidepots, nose cone, and front wings, and Darth Vader was painted right in front of the cockpit. The car looked very similar to the team’s traditional livery, but the fiery details added a cool, aggressive, and fast touch.
In addition, during that weekend, some characters from the film, such as Darth Vader, Chewbacca, R2-D2, and George Lucas, made an appearance in the paddock. The Red Bull mechanics also dressed as Stormtroopers to fit in with the film’s theme.
Unfortunately, both drivers, David Coulthard and Antonio Liuzzi, crashed out, making it the first race in Red Bull Racing history in which the team failed to score points. This was the first of many occasions in which Red Bull has worn special liveries, being the one that has done it the most in recent decades.
10. Ferrari – 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix
Ferrari made its F1 debut at the 1950 Monaco GP and has raced every season since, becoming the longest-serving active team in the championship and the most successful of all. The Maranello team celebrated their 1,000th Grand Prix in F1 at the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix with a special one-off livery.
Additionally, the 2020 Tuscan GP took place at Mugello Circuit, the Ferrari-owned facility, which hosted an F1 race for the very first time. Ferrari changed its usual bright red for a Burgundy color for this race, in homage to the first Ferrari car, the 125 S, and the 125 F1, which ran in the Monaco GP on May 21, 1950, both of which were of this color.
And in addition, the engine cover featured a yellow 1000 GP logo, in contrast to the burgundy color of the car. Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel also had special race suits for this race that matched the car’s color, and the car livery was unveiled at an event before the Grand Prix.
Unfortunately, as with many one-off liveries, it was not a good weekend for the team, as Leclerc finished eighth while Vetel was tenth.
11. McLaren – 1986 Portuguese Grand Prix
During the 70s, 80s, and 90s, McLaren cars went down in history not only for being fast but also for their iconic and simple red and white livery associated with tobacco company Marlboro.
The color scheme remained intact from 1973 to 1996, except for one race: the 1986 Portuguese Grand Prix. During that weekend, Marlboro wanted to promote their new gold brand of cigarettes, and they changed the livery of Keke Rosberg’s car from red and white to yellow and white just for the race, while his teammate Alain Prost stuck with the usual livery.
Additionally, Rosberg also sported an overall yellow race suit. After being so used to seeing those red and white McLarens, the pictures of that car look Photoshopped. Rosberg couldn’t finish the race due to an electrical failure, so we didn’t get to see that much.
12. Ferrari – 2001 Italian Grand Prix
The 2001 Italian Grand Prix was on the verge of not being held, as it was scheduled to take place on September 16, five days after the 9/11 attacks in the United States that shocked the world and changed the history and politics of the 21st century.
In the end, it was decided to go ahead, but without any pre or post-race celebrations. Many teams made adjustments to their liveries to pay tribute to the victims, such as carrying the US flag or painting sections of the car black.
However, Ferrari went a step further than the rest, running in predominantly red paint without any sponsors and painting the nose section black.
It was a nice detail for the Prancing Horse, who finished second with Rubens Barrichello and fourth with Michael Schumacher. It was not a very good result for Ferrari at the time, who were the absolute dominators.
As we have seen, there are many reasons why teams use one-off liveries. Interestingly, these special liveries don’t bring teams much luck in many cases, a strange coincidence.
However, the special liveries are very interesting and cool and put the spotlight on the teams for that weekend. Which is your favorite?
- Do you remember…when Ferrari raced in blue (formula1.com)
- Ligier’s Special Gitanes Livery | Between Racing Lines
- Il Tricolore and James Bond – Alfa Romeo and Aston Martin unveil special Italian GP liveries | Formula 1®
- A Special Livery for Ferrari 1000 (ferrariownersclub.co.uk)
- 9 Times F1 Teams Used One-Off Liveries – YouTube
- La promoción más bizarra de la Fórmula 1 – Efeuno – YouTube