Poll Evolution of the Formula 1 Car

Which period of F1 had the best looking cars.

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Many threads on here start with a question and this one is no different. marksawatsky asked which single year had the best looking F1 cars.
Well a single year would be hard to define but lets take a look back at the different generations of F1 cars and how they evolved from the early pre-championship days right through to the ground hugging high downforce monsters we have to day and then it will be interesting to see which era of F1 we all love or hate.

Pre-war & 1950's
F1 wasn't created on that first summers afternoon at Silverstone in 1950. Not long after the creation of the first horseless carriage then the competition began to see who could make the fastest. The early race cars didn't look much different until the standard road cars until the 30's. In 1937 Alfa Romeo released the Alfetta 158


Massive success on the track meant the design was copied and used by the car manufacturers once the economy recovered in the post war period and the F1 championship was born.
The cars themselves used the same basic layout. A front mounted engine and skinny wheels was pretty much all there was on the car, driver safety was never a consideration. Windscreens were optional as were seat belts and helmets. This style of car was also one of the longest periods of stability, it wasn't until Stirling Moss won in Argentina in 1958 that a new design of F1 car was born.

1960's Garagistes
I would have loved to see the looks on the Ferrari management before and after that day in Argentina. From laughter at the sight of a car with the engine behind the driver to total shock and disbelief when the car with a much smaller engine managed victory against much more powerful front engined racecars.

The 1st of these so call Garagistes was the Cooper T51.

The overall look was similar to the previous generation of F1 cars. This new breed of F1 cars had smaller engines, only 1.5 litres compared to the 3 litre monsters of before. The mid mounted engine meant a smoother front end to the car and larger wheels at the back started to become the norm.

Mid 60's 3.0 Litre Wingless Cars
In 1966 the regulations changed once more. More power was added to the cars which were becoming lower and a lot more streamlined in relation to the previous decades cars. The most iconic of this generation of cars was the Lotus 43

The standout features of this formula 1 car is the huge tyres, they were so large it seemed that the car could almost run if it was on it's roof although the driver may not be the most comfortable. Another key aspect of the car was the visible exhausts coming from the engine. Earlier cars did have this feature but it soon became the standard for F1.

Late 60's Wings & the birth of Commercial F1
By this time F1 was gaining huge popularity and two of the most revolutionary changes in the F1 car happened in 1968. Again it was the Lotus leading the way and the 49B broke the ground with a car whose like had never been seen before.

Additional safety for the driver was a key factor in the cars design but it was the wings added to the front and rear of the car as well as corporate sponsorship which set the tone for a new image of F1 car

Early 70's
By this point car design was changing at an extraordinary rate, I don't think even the teams and drivers knew what they would be competing against until they sat on the grid along side their opposition.

Fat rear tyres and comparatively microscopic front wheels were the way to go. Huge air intakes above the drivers and a large tea tray for a wing defined this crop of cars.

Mid 1970's
Aerodynamics were becoming the key field of car development by this time. Wings were getting thinner, cars were getting lower and those rear wheels kept on growing. The drivers were getting better protection with a larger monocoque but huge cooling intakes in sidepods was prevalent in all cars on the grid.

Late 1970's
Search for a 1976 F1 car on google and one of the first images you will see is the legendary Tyrell P34. This six wheel monster of a car was a prime example of what designers were willing to do in order to win.

Late late 70's Early 80's
A new phrase was coined in this period of F1 design. Cars were literally being sucked on to the race track by something called Ground Effect. This meant the cars were incredibly close to the ground with wide skirts and a very low aerodynamic profile.

Mid 80's
As always in F1, revolution in car design meant increased speeds which also brought increased danger. Ground effect was soon outlawed and F1 cars went back to the design curve shown in the mid 70's. Wing design was once again the key area of car development as shown by this 1983 Ferrari 126

Late 80's
You can't talk about this generation of F1 without mentioning McLaren or Williams. I may be incredibly biased here but these cars were amazing to look at. I do need to stay neutral so instead of writing paragraphs on how amazing this generation of cars looked I'll just post a picture instead!


Early 90's
This is where posting just a single picture to define an era gets incredibly difficult. McLaren MP4/6, Williams FW14, Jordan 191, Benetton B190. These cars are icons but also the last era of race cars with the nose to the ground.

Key features for this generation was the narrow chassis and delicate suspension.

Mid 90's
Although pioneered by Benetton in the early 90's their upturned nose design didn't really catch on until after the tragic events of 1994. Cars had to be designed from a basic template and were fiercely regulated from this point on and individuality across the grid was on the decline.

Late 90's
Sadly by this point any shred of individuality on the grid was gone. Apart from the paint and sponsorship most cars would look identical unless you were actually up close with them. This doesn't mean the cars themselves looked bad, they just looked like every other car on the grid.

Early 2000's
The noses were now at a regulated height along with the regulated side pods and regulated wing sizes. Drivers sat under an airbox of regulated size and the grooved tyres used a regulated tyre compound. As you can imagine this period of 'exciting' car design meant equally 'exciting' racing.

Mid 2000's
With car chassis sizes being so regulated, car designers had to think of new ways of getting ever increasing levels of downforce on to their cars and to solve this issue the winglet was born. I could post images of F1 cars from this period but I'm pretty sure you'll appreciate this one a whole lot more!


Sorry I forgot I'm supposed to be impartial here. Here's how cars of that generation actually looked.

Late 2000's
After 2008 The F1 regulators had had enough of the winglets. F1 cars are supposed to be beautiful to look at and not carbon fibre monstrosities even Quasimodo would have been ashamed to be seen sat in.
Clean lines returned to the grid once more and even lower noses began to make a comeback.
The 2009 title winning Brawn was a fine example of this.

Early 2010's
In this brief period the smooth clean lines remained, noses became higher and limits on the aero impact reduced. The front wings were becoming ever more intricate as well as lots of work being done on the rear of the car. Luckily this area of development was out of sight and kept cars looking good as shown by this image of the 2011 Lotus being followed by the 2011 Lotus? :thinking:

The F1 cars in these years had one major characteristic. Yeah you guessed it, it was those pesky stepped noses. Enough said.

After the horror of those noses in the last two years F1 fans were eager to see what 2014 brought. Sadly after what those pesky regulations forced on us , we wished had the stepped noses back again. :sick:

Luckily not all cars this season are quite so bad looking but thankfully next years regulations have a new aesthetic clause built into them. Now only if we could apply that rule to some of the drivers.

Anyway enough of my rambling, I have tried to stay impartial where I can. The poll is open so choose which period of F1 was the best looking, to make things interesting you can pick any 3 of the eras above. I'm sorry I've not been able to include all the cars or years but I'm sure you will add in any I've missed.
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Apart from the awesomely beautiful (and almost universally admired) 1967 Eagle Weslake, I adore the late 80s Benetton B186-B189 cars, so that's the era for me.....
Hell's bells why did you have to stick in a picture with a gorgeous bird in it, now I can't think of anything but her,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, sorry what was I saying......? Fosters that's it I feel the need to have a pint of Fosters..

I was almost tempted to write an article on the evolution of the grid girl. They did look a lot better in the nineties and noughties than they do now, too much corporate image going on these days. I think that may be better on a different kind of site....
I actually find it difficult to answer this question as they all have their own quirks.

  • Cars up to the mid-60s, before aerodynamics and sponsorship turn up, are sort of pure machines of power but before my era and I struggle to identify with them as objects of beauty.
  • Everything from late 60s to mid 80s is almost blind experimentation in aerodynamics, with interesting but hardly/rarely beautiful results.
  • Late 80s to early 2000s is possibly the happy medium between understanding aerodynamics but not enough to be playing with every inch of the car and before the introduction of some pretty badly conceived regulations in terms of car appearance. But F1 is about pushing boundaries and these cars somehow look conservative by modern standards.
  • The mid 2000s cars with all the winglets are the most aggressive looking, and I don't share the view of them being ugly that many people do. If you could only use one 'showroom style' picture of one stationary car to show someone what makes F1 unique I would show them a car from this era - they're all about squeezing every last drop of performance out of the chassis.
  • Everything post 2009 has the stupid skinny rear wing.
  • 2012 had the stupid stepped noses.
  • 2014 has the finger noses. However, I think some of the 2014 cars look better than or at least as good as some of those from the previous couple of years so it's a bit unfair to stick the Caterham monstrosity at the end! The Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams, Red Bull and maybe Sauber are all pretty decent.

I'll keep thinking about it... I see I can vote for three which might make my decision easier...
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... and the thing we seem to like most is smooth simple shapes that look low and fast. It shouldn't be a surprise after years of CTA debating ways to improve F1 and usually ending up at less aero more grip. Still like to think someone who can effect change actually reads these things...
I was talking about the cars. I think she is far too distracting. I could replace her image with this one though.

I so wanted to vote for the Brawn-type cars of 2009, but I just couldn't - though the Brawn was the best-looking one of that year by a long shot, the rest were pretty hideous (the Red Bull was marginally nice, if I'm being completely honest).

So it was mid-60s cigar tubes on wheels, mid-70s winged wedges and early 90s uber-cars for me. Any one of those screams F1 to my eyes.
Again, like Road of Bones, I can't in all honesty vote for the Brawn in 2009, because it was one car amongst many. On that basis, the non-stepped McLaren of 2012 would also be worthy of a vote. And in the early 2000s, only the Ferrari looked any good as well!

So I've gone for the two garagiste eras and the Senna era of the early 90s. Which I think is fair.

The 2008 cars were absolutely hideous, looking back!
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