While many of those involved in motorsport will tell you that the best-looking car is the one that wins, that hasn’t stopped particular liveries becoming much-loved fan favourites over the past few decades.
Some are associated with an especially popular or successful driver, whereas others are just great pieces of design – that may not have been backed up by great results on track. On these pages, we’ve picked out some of the best Formula One liveries of the modern era, going back to the first sponsor-driven schemes of the late sixties, right up to more recent efforts to stand out. And we also look at some classic schemes from the worlds of rallying and endurance racing, to complete the picture.
Scroll down below to look at our list of the best F1 liveries…
1968 Gold Leaf Lotus
Famous as the first works F1 entry to ditch traditional national racing colours in favour of a completely sponsor-driven scheme, the 1968 Lotus 49 is also notable for the team’s early experimentation with aerodynamic wings. The high-mounted spoilers seen early in the year were later banned on safety grounds, but either way the car wore the bold red, gold and white Gold Leaf colours.
1972 John Player Special Lotus
Considered by many to be the most iconic racing livery of all time, the John Player Special colour scheme for Lotus saw all the sponsor logos – not just the primary backer’s – finished in gold on a black background, for an unforgettable look.
Earlier and later Ferrari F1 cars are recognisable for their almost completely red finishes, but for 1977 the 312 T2 featured elegant pinstriping and a large Italian tricolour on its oversized airbox. The huge rear tyres, centre-mounted rear wing and high front wing all contributed to what was a distinctive overall look.
Sporting Renault’s classic black and yellow corporate colours, bold driver numbers on the engine cover and an unmissable diamond logo on the nose, the Alain Prost- and Eddie Cheever-driven RE40 made a big impact.
1988 Marlboro McLaren
Ayrton Senna driving a red-and-white Marlboro-sponsored McLaren is one of the iconic images of F1 in the eighties, and the 1988 MP4/4 is perhaps the purest expression of this simple yet striking concept. The low-slung car design had plenty of wide, flat surfaces, and the minimal number of different sponsors kept things clear.
Youthful clothing brand Benetton always ran pleasing liveries on its F1 cars, but the 1988 season effort, with big blocks of bold primary colours on the different elements of the car’s structure, was a particular highlight.
A simple, compact, well proportioned shape, with small wheels, a nicely angled nose, the boldest of Ferrari reds, bright-white Goodyear lettering on the tyres, and Fiat, Marlboro and Agip logos on the bodywork – perfect.
1991 7Up Jordan
Jordan’s beautifully simple debut Formula One car, the Gary Anderson-designed 191, is frequently cited as one of the best-looking racing cars of all time, even without its distinctive livery. However, the instantly recognisable logo of soft-drink brand 7Up, coupled with its deep-green corporate colour scheme, suited it perfectly.
2000 Orange Arrows
Another example of a superb-looking but not front-running car, the 2000 Orange Arrows’ livery was a straightforward, high-impact, two-colour scheme that worked particularly well on that season’s elegantly proportioned A21 design.
2015 ‘Camo Bull’ Red Bull
Red Bull held no launch event or announcement for its 2015 RB11 challenger, instead simply turning up to the first day of pre-season testing in Jerez, Spain, with this striking camouflage livery, similar to the disguises worn by prototype road cars. The team nicknamed it the ‘Camo Bull’ and it got a positive reaction from fans, but it reverted to its traditional blue livery for the season.
Great liveries don’t necessarily go hand in hand with great performances. Manor was a backmarker for its entire tenure in F1, but a rebrand for 2016, incorporating a retro typeface, clever logo and classy red-and-blue colours, turned some heads.
More great liveries
The best non-F1 schemes
Gulf Porsche 917 (Sportscars)
Jostling with the John Player Special Lotus for the title of ‘greatest motorsport livery ever’, the simple powder-blue background and thick orange-stripe combo has been used numerous times in racing since – both officially and unofficially.
Martini Lancia (WRC)
Many rally fans consider the sight of the flame-spitting, popping-and-banging, Martini-liveried Lancias piloted by Markku Alen, Henri Toivonen or Juha Kankkunen to be the absolute pinnacle of the sport, and the colours still look fresh today.
Silk Cut Jaguar (Sportscars)
British interest in the Le Mans 24 Hours peaked in the late eighties when the likes of Derek Warwick and Martin Brundle piloted Jaguar’s purple-gold-and-white cars. The XJR-9 won Le Mans in 1988; the XJR-12 repeated the feat in 1990.
555 Subaru Impreza (WRC)
Iconic car, iconic driver, iconic logo and iconic colours. For many, a blue-and-yellow Colin McRae-driven Subaru Impreza sliding sideways along a muddy gravel road simply is rallying. It’s the livery that spawned a thousand road-car imitations.