1997 McLaren MP4/12
This was the proper return of the Silver Arrows to F1, with McLaren enjoying Mercedes power in the mid-1990s. The German manufacturer had dominated F1 but quit motor racing after the tragic Le Mans 24 Hours of 1955 in which 83 spectators were killed.
This new livery, with cigarette sponsor West the main feature, would dominate McLaren’s look for well over a decade. For an older generation it might be the red and white Marlboro paint job that is mostly associated with the team, but for others it conjures happy memories of the days when the cars were piloted by DC and the Flying Finn.
2000 Jaguar Racing R1
The great manufacturer influx of the early 2000s began with the arrival of Jaguar as a manufacturer-backed team in 2000.
The carmaker had bought out the Stewart GP team fresh from its freak win at the Nürburgring with Johnny Herbert in the wet and signed almost-1999-title-winner Eddie Irvine for a huge fee.
Rumour has it that the Ford CEO at the time shouted ‘Who the hell is this Ed Irvine’ when he found out he was the company’s highest-paid employee.
The striking green car was designed by Gary Anderson, the same chap responsible for the Jordan 191 and 197 cars in our list. He worked almost exclusively for Jordan during his 12-year career in F1, switching to Stewart/Jaguar between 1999 and 2001. Sadly the car was a bit rubbish, only scoring four points.
1972 John Player Special Lotus 72D
Lotus had been sponsored for a number of years by Imperial Tobacco, but the launch of a new brand by the company would lead to a livery that many will still say today is the most iconic of all time.
The John Player Special Lotus with its vibrant black and gold design has even become iconic, and a number of road cars over the years have paid tribute to the look, including the Ford Capri and various Lotuses.
This 72D from 1972 was the fourth iteration of the car, which raced over six years and scored 20 wins, two drivers’ titles and three constructors’ titles for Colin Chapman’s team.
1986 Benetton BMW B186
Sure, teams had been running with colours and sponsorship logos for years, but the 1986 Benetton B186 was a portent of the future, with Italian clothing maker Benetton taking over the small Toleman team and rebranding the whole effort.
The B186 showed that sponsorship-themed paint jobs could actually be fun – the car even ran with coloured sidewalls on the tyres at the Detroit Grand Prix.
For the first time, though, this was a team that was principally there to sell something – the business of racing to a back seat to another kind of business, if you will.
Promising young driver Gerhard Berger was in his second full year of F1 and he grabbed the car by the scruff of its neck, dragging it up to a third place in San Marino and a win in Mexico.
1997 Jordan 197
You could pick any of the five versions of the Benson & Hedges-sponsored Jordans from the late-1990s and early-2000s as cool liveries, but for sheer novelty value we have to pick out the first one from 1997.
With its bright yellow paint, scary snake fangs and Bitten & Hisses option for countries where tobacco sponsorship was banned, the Jordan 197 showed that the plucky Irish team really was a true breath of fresh air in a stuffy paddock.
The young partnership of Ralf Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella was a risk too – particularly when the two crashed into each other at the Argentinian GP three races in. A certain sense of drama followed the Jordan team everywhere.
1997 Mastercard Lola T97/30
It seems that 1997 was a vintage year – although the Lola team might not agree, because they didn’t even manage to start their first and only race that year.
Despite being a race car manufacturer, Lola project was doomed from the beginning, with borrowed Indycar tech, no windtunnel work and a troubled construction all the way through.
The in-house engine design was a disaster and the cars had to be fitted with ageing Ford V8 units. More than 11 seconds off the pace in qualifying, the cars weren’t allowed to race in Australia and the team went bankrupt before the next event in Brazil. Whoops. They looked lovely and colourful though.
1976 Martini Brabham BT45
The BT45 was the fourth car designed by Gordon Murray for the Brabham F1 team headed by one Bernie Ecclestone. It was powered by a 500bhp 3-litre flat-12 engine from Alfa Romeo.
The car didn’t manage the success that Brabham would later become used to, only scoring nine points over the year from three fourth-place finishes.
The main point of interest with the Brabham BT45 is that it was the first car the team raced with its iconic Martini livery, body painted a deep red and those elegant blue lines flowing back over the body. Here was a look that encapsulated the 1970s and defined an era for the Brabham team.
2011 HRT F111
The HRT F111 makes this list not by virtue of its elegance or slick design, but simply because of its pound shop cool – it looks like the sort of car you would find in the back of your local discount store, a simulacrum of a real F1 car.
The ‘Your Name Here’ stickers on the side of the car could be seen as a cry for help, or perhaps a bit of cool, post-ironic humour poking fun at the HRT team’s lowly status.
Interestingly, the livery was designed by Hollywood concept vehicle designer Daniel Simon, who is perhaps best known for his efforts on 2011 film Tron.
1999 BAR 01
‘You can’t have cars in separate liveries’, BAR was told as it prepared to launch as a brand new team in 1999. Two half-painted cars was the two-fingered response from BAR – it decided it would paint each car with two designs and put a zip up the middle. It seems it must have been all that extra paint that made them slow, because the BARs didn’t manage to go as fast as their chutzpah suggested they’d be, even with mouthy 1997 champion Jacques Villeneuve at the wheel.
1993 Williams FW15C
The 1993 Williams didn’t just look good, it was fast too, and certainly the most successful car on this list, winning both the drivers’ and constructors’ titles and a massive 10 races in its single season of racing.
The 505kg car was fitted with a 3.5-litre V10 Renault and featured some of the most sophisticated driver aids ever seen on an F1 car – anti-lock brakes, active suspension and traction control.
It was a troubled birth for this car, though, even if it made 1993 look easy. The original FW15 was developed in 1992 to take advantage of the new technologies that were coming available, but the FW14B in the hands of Nigel Mansell was so successful that it was needed.
A B-version was created for pre-season testing in 1993 and the C-version was the car that was finally raced by Frenchman Alain Prost and newly promoted team test driver Damon Hill.
With its simple-looking aero, low cockpit sides and dropped nose, this was the last of an old breed of F1 cars. The Rothmans livery introduced the following year by the team could be argued as a more iconic livery, but the FW15C gets extra bonus points for making Alain Prost look like a tiny cartoon hedgehog in his racing car.
1950 Ferrari 125 F1
This was the very first Ferrari F1 car, and makes the list by virtue of the fact that it introduced the iconic red livery to the sport. Sadly colour imagery wasn't yet widespread to do the car justice, but imagine it red.
Powered by a supercharged 1.5-litre V12, the car is positively stone age in comparison with modern cars. The 125 F1 used a steel tubular frame chassis and featured drum brakes all round.
It managed a couple of podiums in a solid first season, which was made up of a mere seven races – the current F1 paddock might appreciate a drop from the 21 races in the calendar at the moment.
None of the original three cars still exist, but there’s a replica 125 F1 built by the Italian marque that sits in the company’s museum at Maranello.
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