Picture this…

If you closed your eyes and thought of what image you would use to describe a Formula 1 car to someone who has never seen any era of them, which car would you use?

Certainly to me the defining image of what an F1 car ‘should’ be comes from my formative years of the early 90’s, and of course there is still a massive influence in the general shape of the current cars (partly set out by the regulations). The wings, airbox and sidepods are highly visible items that have clearly evolved due to further advances in aerodynamic, mechanical and engineering prowess, but their general shape follow lines that are pre-determined as safety measures and also to provide a visual key to fans, hardcore and casual, who have a set of expectations of what an F1 car looks like.

McLaren Honda MP4-6

Senna attacking the kerbs at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix

The car that helped carry the great Ayrton Senna to his 3rd and last title is one of the classic examples of the early 90’s aerodynamic aesthetic, and a highly successful one too. There’s a common belief held in Formula 1 that a beautiful car is usually a fast one, and this car followed that rule to the letter. The sight of the red-and-white McLaren with the bright yellow helmet of Senna is a memorable one for many F1 fans, and an intimidating one for drivers.

Williams Renault FW18

Damon Hill in 1996

This is my favourite of the more modern high-nosed cars. This was also the first year that the now commonplace head rests were made mandatory, helping give these cars the feel that they were the first of the real modern era. Again a very pretty car in a well-suited livery, and again an iconic helmet design behind the wheel. Damon Hill won the title in this season with a dominant victory in the final race of the season in Japan. Even in the mid-90’s we were beginning the see the first signs of the trends that would end in 2008 with cars covered in winglets and turning vanes, with the FW18’s bargeboards and rear-wing connected winglets being indicators of that.

Ferrari 641

Ferrari’s Nigel Mansell – 1990

Though I’m not really a Ferrari fan, their 1990 car – the 641 – is one of the all-time best looking cars to me. I love the elongated sidepods… and why don’t Ferrari use black as their accent colour anymore? The sidepods are an interesting feature, and something that wasn’t really adopted by many other teams, though Jordan did use something similar in 1995 and 96. A really unique car…

Leyton House Judd CG891

Ivan Capelli in Adrian Newey’s Leyton House car

Not quite following the F1 rule of beautiful and fast, this was a moderately successful car in terms of the team’s size and resources. It can also be considered as the first iteration of the concept and thinking that led to the Williams FW14, borne out of the compromising genuis of Adrian Newey. This was the first car that ‘shrink-wrapped’ it’s body around the innards of the car in order to get the best aerodynamic shape. It’s a thinking that has dominated Newey’s designs for the next 20 years, with concepts first tried out in this Leyton House cars. Part of the reason Adrian joined Red Bull Racing in 2006 was that he wanted to follow through what he felt he didn’t get to finish with Leyton House, by bringing a smaller team up to the front. Ivan Capelli came within a few laps of winning the French Grand Prix in 1990 in the second version of this car, but I chose this one because of it’s initial innovation.

I’m definitely a fan of the lower-nosed cars, and it’s actually a direction F1 might be heading towards again, in order to prevent cars flying into the car when hitting the rear of another car, as in Mark Webber’s 2010 crash at Valencia.

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