After what has seemed like an eternity, Formula 1 is back! Just like before the month-long summer break, it was Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing who stamped their authority over last week’s Belgian Grand Prix, and the F1 2022 drivers’ standings.
Heading into Verstappen’s home Grand Prix in the Netherlands this weekend, the 24-year-old holds a 93 point over his teammate, Sergio Pérez, after winning nine of the 14 races held-so far this season. With a 64% victory rate (so far!) in 2022, only an act of God seems likely to halt the Dutchman from taking a second drivers’ title.
After Zandvoort, seven races of F1 2022 are left. Given Ferrari’s self-sabotaging ways this season and Mercedes having seemingly given up on its recalcitrant W13, Red Bull and Verstappen could easily win the remaining seven races of the year. After all, don’t forget that Verstappen won from 14th on the grid at Spa, and 10th at the previous race in Hungary.
All things considered then, the 2022 Red Bull RB18 is most likely to become one of the most successful F1 cars of all time; another Adrian Newey masterpiece. In the countdown to the inevitable Red Bull title double, let’s look at five of the best, and five of the worst F1 cars to have ever raced…
Five Of The Best F1 Cars To Have Ever Raced…
If you’re from the Playstation Generation, then Ferrari and Michael Schumacher are your most probable “go to” pairing if we’re playing Formula 1 word association. After winning back-to-back titles with Benetton in 1994 and 1995, Schumacher moved to the Scuderia for 1996 with a single mission: to return Ferrari to F1 title-winning ways after a drought stretching back to 1979. After narrowly missing out in 1997 and 1998, Schumacher racked up his first championship with Ferrari in 2000 after a titanic season-long battle with the McLaren of Mika Häkkinen. Schumacher and Ferrari then went on a roll to win the constructors’ and drivers’ titles each year until 2004, and it would be in this car - the Ferrari F2004 you see above - with which Schumacher won the last of his seven titles. This elegant red machine was driven by Ferrari’s screaming 3.0-litre Tipo 053 V10; a sound synonymous with Schumacher’s period of dominance during the early 2000s. From the 20 races it entered, the F2004 won 15 races, scored 30 podiums, 12 pole positions, and logged 14 fastest laps. It may not be the most dominant car on this list, but the F2004 is certainly the most poignant if you grew up watching F1 during the Ferrari/Schumacher days.
McLaren Honda MP4/4
If we’re talking about the statistically most-successful Formula 1 car of all time, then it’s this - the 1988 McLaren Honda MP4/4. Driven by the iconic pairing of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, the MP4/4 - and its turbocharged Honda V6 engine - won 15 out of the 16 races on the 1988 F1 season calendar. In fact, were it not for Senna and Prost clattering into each other (again!) at the Italian Grand Prix, then this astonishing car designed by Steve Nichols, Bob Bell, and Gordon Murray would have won all 16 events. Oh, and to underline its dominance, the MP4/4 took 15 from 16 pole positions giving it a devastatingly good success rate of 93.7% in both race and qualifying trim. Unsurprisingly, the 1988 championship battle came down to Senna and Prost, with the latter coming out on top. This dominant season would go on to provide the context for a bitter rivalry between the Brazilian and the Frenchman that would last early into the following decade. What’s more, the Marlboro livery, clean design and legendary driver line up make the MP4/4 one of the coolest F1 cars in the sport’s history.
Mercedes F1 W07 Hybrid
One of the more unassuming looking Formula 1 cars to make this list, the Mercedes W07 is the most dominant machine ever made by the Brackley-based team, and one of the greatest F1 cars of all time. Introduced for 2016 - the third season of the turbo hybrid era - the W07 was driven by Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. In what would be a year of titanic battles reminiscent of the Senna/Prost rivalry of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Rosberg and Hamilton went head-to-head for the drivers’ title with the German pipping his teammate by five points at the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi to take his first and only drivers’ championship. Just five days after the race, Rosberg promptly retired and was duly replaced by Valtteri Bottas who served as a fast-yet-dutiful Number 2 driver to Hamilton until 2022. When it comes to stats, the W07 ranks second in F1 history behind the McLaren MP4/4 in terms of winningness. During the 2016 season, Rosberg and Hamilton won 19 races from 21, took 33 podiums, 20 pole positions, and recorded nine fastest laps between them. Love Mercedes or hate ‘em, that’s pretty astonishing stuff.
Red Bull RB9
The early 2010s were the original golden era for Red Bull Racing. They had a dominant car, and a young driver in his mid-20s who could turn anything he touched into gold. Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it? Whilst Sebastian Vettel’s third drivers’ championship in 2012 was arguably the weakest of his four (see, the season-long battle with Alonso who was driving a crap Ferrari like a low-flying God) the German and the Milton Keynes-based team returned in 2013 to steamroller the opposition with dominant Red Bull RB9. Once again powered by the 2.4L Renault V8 and equipped with the massively effective blown diffuser, the Adrian Newey-designed RB9 took 13 wins from 19 races thanks to Vettel, and it took Vettel to nine consecutive victories on the bounce; a record which still stands today. Given Vettel will retire from F1 at the end of the 2022 season, the RB9 will almost certainly be looked back at with a lot of fondness because after all, “everyone is a Sebastian Vettel fan” - it was the car in which Vettel won his fourth and final championship at just age 26, and it was the last Red Bull title winning car until Max Verstappen broke Hamilton and Mercedes’ grip on the drivers’ championship in 2021. Given the form of Verstappen and the RB18 this season, it would be far from surprising if they managed to eclipse what Vettel and the RB9 achieved.
Williams is still one of the greatest teams in Formula 1 history. Whilst today The Team That Frank Built is miles away from its late-1980s/mid-1990s pomp, the fact remains that it is still the fourth most successful F1 team of all time. It’s difficult to choose a ‘best’ Williams F1 car from the team’s peak, given the Grove-based outfit won both championships in 1992, 1993, 1996, and 1997. However, a strong contender would have to be the car above - the Williams FW14B. An evolution of the 1991 FW14, the following season’s FW14B was a technological masterpiece. Designed by Adrian Newey, the car featured semi-automatic transmission, active suspension, traction control, and, for a while, anti-lock brakes. Unsurprisingly, the sheer amount of brain power and innovation tempted Nigel Mansell out of retirement for 1992, and motorsport’s fastest moustache went on to take his first and only F1 title with nine wins from 16 races. In fact, the FW14B was so dominant, that Mansell won the championship with five of the year remaining.
… And Five Of The Worst F1 Cars To Have Ever Raced (One Even Won A Race, though)!
When Caterham entered Formula 1 as Lotus Racing for the 2010 season, the project was doomed from the start. Before the factory was finished, team owner Tony Fernandez made the classic mistake of overpromising and under-delivering. Until the team - under the guise of Caterham - went into administration at the end of the 2014 F1 season, it failed to score a single point. However, things weren’t entirely bad - the cars from 2011 to 2013 were generally pretty good looking with their green and yellow liveries, and the team even managed to attract the services of decent drivers such as Jarno Trulli, Heikki Kovalainen, Kamui Kobayashi, and André Lotterer. However, when F1 switched to the turbo hybrid era in 2014, Caterham didn’t even have decent looking race machinery to fall back on. As part of the sweeping new regulations for 2014, the nose cones were lowered significantly to decrease the risk of serious injury or death in the event of an accident, and with the exception of Red Bull’s rather handsome RB10, most of these nose cone solutions would bring tears to your eyes. However, the Caterham CT05’s front end was easily the worst of the lot. Just take a moment to breathe it in. It’s little wonder that the CT05 is often mentioned in the same breath as “The Ugliest F1 Cars Ever”. What’s more, Caterham finished 10th in the constructors’ standings during its final season in Formula 1, so not only was it absolutely rancid to look at, it was also very, very slow.
When McLaren reunited with Honda for the 2015 Formula 1 season, it should have been the stuff of dreams. The illustrious pairing had won championships with Senna and Prost in the 1980s and ‘90s, and the mere mention of the “McLaren-Honda” is enough to stir the loins of even the most casual F1 fan. For the reunion, McLaren had Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, two championship winning drivers and two of the most prolific names in Formula 1 during the 2000s. Heading into 2015, it appeared that happy days were on the horizon for McLaren after a barren couple of seasons. Except they weren’t, because the Honda-powered MP4/30 was dreadful. Throughout the year, McLaren maintained that the chassis was good, and it was the Honda engine letting things down. Meanwhile, Honda maintained their engine was decent, but it was McLaren’s tightly packaged body that caused its engine to overheat and explode. Anyway, nobody really knows the truth because the slow and woefully unreliable MP4/30 failed to finish 12 of the season’s 19 races. By the end of 2015, it had logged just six top 10 finishes accumulating in 27 points between the two drivers. Just two seasons later, the McLaren-Honda dream was dead, and the team turned to Renault power for 2018.
On paper, the Lola T97 wasn’t a bad idea. Lola had a credible history in producing winning chassis in sportscars and IndyCar, whilst an alleged $45m sponsorship package was spearheaded by petroleum giant Penzoil and Mastercard. However, it would be Mastercard who caused the team’s disastrous entry. Planned to enter Formula 1 for the 1998 season, Mastercard decided it wanted Lola to make its debut in 1997 otherwise it would pull its financial backing. The team gave in, and when it turned up for the 1997 Australian Grand Prix, Lola arrived in Melbourne with a car that had zero wind-tunnel time, and just eight laps of pre-season running… and whilst it was slow, nobody expected it to be as slow as it was. The Williams Renault of Jacques Villeneuve set a pole time of 1:29.396, whilst the two Lola T97s of Ricardo Rosset and Vincenzo Sospiri recorded a 1:40.927 and a 1:42.086 respectively; an enormous difference of 11.5 and 12.6 seconds. Unsurprisingly, these times fell nowhere within the bounds of the 107% rule required to start the race, so Lola packed up and went home. Between the season opener and the following round in Brazil a fortnight later, Mastercard pulled the plug anyway and the team folded.
Founded by an Italian businessman, located a stone’s throw from Maranello, and fielding a Rosso Corsa car there was plenty to like about the Life F1 team. The team was also ambitious. For 1990, Life’s debut season, turbocharging was banned so the majority of teams reverted to V10 and V12 engines. Oh no, not Life, though. They decided their first Formula 1 car, the L190, would be powered by a W12. On its debut, the L190 proved to be so slow and unreliable that its driver, David Brabham, walked after one race. As the season progressed, it quickly became apparent that the L190 was even slower than expected. At Silverstone, the car failed to even PRE-QUALIFY by a massive 19 seconds, and at Hockenheim (the old configuration with the massive straights) it was down 64kph (or 40mph) down on the leading teams. Afterwards, it transpired that the cumbersome W12 was running half the power - that’s 375bhp - enjoyed by the 1990 season’s dominant McLaren Hondas of Ayrton Senna and Gerhard Berger. Despite turning to conventional V8 power, it was clear that Life wasn’t cut out for well… F1 life. The team folded at the end of 1990, but retains a cult following for being stupidly ambitious and equally as rubbish.
The strange thing about the Jordan EJ13 is that it’s the only one of the F1 cars towards the bottom of this list to have won a race. In one of the most chaotic races in Formula 1 history, Giancarlo Fisichella navigated his Ford-powered EJ13 to victory at the attrition-packed 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix. When Jordan switched from Honda to Ford power for 2003, it quickly became apparent that the Ford V10 in the back of the EJ13 wasn’t up to scratch, and were it not for Fisichella’s freak Brazilian GP win, the team would have finished the season with just three points. When the Ford RS1 engine wasn’t catching fire, it was just slow. Fisichella scored just two more points after his maiden Grand Prix win at Indianapolis, whilst the sister car scored a solitary point in Spain. Whilst the Jordan name disappeared from F1 at the end of 2005, the team soldiered on and retained its Silverstone factory where it operates from in 2022 under the guise of Aston Martin.
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