In today’s Motorsport History Month article, we asked the ASN team what they believe are the five greatest Formula 1 cars ever. From Lotus to Mercedes, here are ASN Motorsports’ five greatest Formula 1 cars.
Over the 71 years of Formula 1, there have been over 1000 models of cars on the racetrack. 221 of those have won races, made by 32 teams. Sometimes, there is one model of F1 car that is head and shoulders above the rest, or years ahead of its time. The members of ASN have voted on what they think are the five greatest F1 cars ever, and in no particular order, here are our picks for the five greatest Formula 1 cars.
Statistically, the Ferrari 312T series is the most successful Formula 1 car ever. The chassis went through four iterations between 1975 and 1980. It won 1975, 1976, 1977, and 1979 world titles, and took 27 wins. To put that in perspective, only five drivers have won four or more world titles, and only eight drivers have won more than 27 races. The Ferrari 312T did all of that in the space of six years, five if you discount the dismal 1980 campaign.
The 312T came about when Ferrari had a massive reshuffle following the dismal 1973 season. The 312B3-74 was the stop-gap car that the team used for the 1974 title, and almost won it with Clay Regazzoni only missing out by three points. It became clear that designer Mauro Forghieri was making a beast of a car behind the scenes. The old car was used for the first two races of 1975 before the 312T debuted in South Africa. Early issues meant only two points from the first two races, but then, in the hands of Niki Lauda, the car won four of the next five races and the title.
This form continued into 1976 when Lauda had a mammoth title battle with James Hunt after miraculously recovering from injuries sustained in a crash at the German Grand Prix. Six wins and the constructor’s title were the takeaways from that year. In 1977 the car was more dominant than ever. A Ferrari featured on the podium in the first eight rounds of the season, taking four wins to give Lauda a second title, and Ferrari another constructor’s title.
The Lotus 79 prevented the 213T from getting four titles on the trot, despite winning five races that year. Carlos Reutemann came third in the title, with Ferrari second in the constructors. 1979, though, with the now-aging chassis upgraded to include ground effect, took the title comprehensively. It was a Ferrari 1-2 in the driver’s title, with the team taking the constructors standings with a 38 points buffer to second. A dismal 1980 spelled the end of the legendary 312T car, with it being replaced by the 126C for 1981.
Davide Bini: “I really like the Ferrari 312T/2 since it has been driven by Niki Lauda, one of the drivers I like the most. Plus, the design of the car is really nice in my opinion and I fell in love with it at first sight.”
Thibault Brun: “Ferrari’s flat 12 engine and the incredible sound that comes with it really give you the feeling that you are watching an F1 car: powerful, dangerous, and fast. This single-seater is full of history, giving it a legendary aspect. Of course, it’s with this car that Niki Lauda had his terrible Nurburgring incident but it is also with this same car that he did his incredible comeback and still managed to fight for the 1976 title that he lost for just one point against James Hunt, before coming back to win it in 1977.”
The epitome of the Schumacher days of Ferrari, the F2004 is arguably the car people think of when they hear ‘Formula 1’. By 2004, Michael Schumacher had already won four titles in a row with Ross Brawn and Jean Todt in the Formula 1 ‘Dream Team’. The 2002 season was one of dominance, but the F2004 was in another realm entirely. So fast was the car that it surprised the team itself, thinking their equipment had glitched.
It was the car’s true pace though, and that became obvious when Ferrari rocked up to Melbourne and locked out the front row, half a second faster than anyone else on the grid. It was the first of five times when Ferrari was over half a second quicker than the opposition in qualifying. They backed this up in the races too, winning 15 of the 18 races of the season, and finishing on the podium at every round.
Needless to say, Schumacher won the 2004 title comfortably, and Ferrari was almost 150 points ahead of the nearest rival in the constructor’s standings. Ferrari’s 2004 performance is what every Formula 1 team strives to do today. The legacy of this magnificent car lives on in many forms too, the lap records at the Albert Park, Monza, and Shanghai tracks are still held by the F2004, even 17 years later.
Davide Bini: “The F2004 was one of the most competitive cars in the history of Ferrari. It won 15 races out of 18, which is a great result for the Italian team. Its performance was incredible and I had a model of that car, with which I used to play when I was younger. Therefore I always carry great memories of this car.”
Leon Kerninger: “The Ferrari F2004 is the F1 car from Ferrari. It was the last car of the so-called ‘Dream Team’ of Ferrari under Jean Todt and it was extremely fast. Often the car had been several seconds faster than the cars from previous years. With Michael Schumacher in the team, it was for me the best car in the history of F1.”
The Lotus 25 is arguably the car that changed the game in F1, and certainly gave team managers in the 1960s a shock when it arrived for the 1962 Dutch Grand Prix. Colin Chapman is one of the most ingenious people in F1 history, and his Lotus 25 likely demonstrated that the most, with its monocoque chassis. With the regulations of the time stipulating only 1500cc engines, teams tried to slash weight to under 500kg. Most just replaced metal components with fiberglass or compromised safety by thinning the spaceframe chassis. Chapman found out that by bolting sheets of aluminum together, one could make a light monocoque chassis without impacting structural integrity.
The car weighed only about 420kg and was noticeably small, aiding the aerodynamic aspect. It was light years ahead of its time, and after sorting out minor issues, with Jim Clark at the wheel, the car won three races in 1962 and seven in 1963. Clark narrowly missed out on the title in 1962 but took it easily the next year. He won three of the first five races in 1964 before Lotus moved on to developing its 33 concepts, and the works team stopped using the 25. Lotus used it for the 1965 French Grand Prix though, where it delivered a swansong victory to make it 14 wins for the car.
So futuristic was the car, that it came seventh in its final race, the 1967 Dutch Grand Prix, six years after its debut.
Thibault Brun: “I really enjoy the cutting-edge livery of the Lotus 25 with its beautiful green. This car is also legendary because of the one that used to drive it: Jim Clark. Watching him really gives an impression of symbiosis with his machine which is probably why the Scotsman was so dominant in 1963. The Lotus 25 is, in my opinion, one of the greatest cars of all time but most importantly, the pairing between Jim Clark and this single-seater is, in my opinion, the greatest of all time.”
Tristen Digby: “The Lotus 25 was so revolutionary and so good looking that it is probably the most iconic and well-known pre-aero F1 car. Chapman was a true genius, and Clark is one of the greatest drivers ever. The longevity of this car is a testament to how forward it was, and the fact it made other teams scramble to make a monocoque chassis because the spaceframe was, thanks to the 25, outdated and irrelevant.”
The McLaren MP4/4 and its legacy make it easily one of the greatest F1 cars ever. With a slender nose and low profile, it was a radical change from F1 designs in the 1980s, making the car look mean and fast, and fast it certainly was.
The narrow, low, and compact design gave it an aerodynamic advantage over its larger, bulkier rivals, with the added bonus of giving rivals less of a slipstream. The Honda V6 turbo engine gave it immense power in the transition season from turbo to naturally aspirated engines, despite the need to almost constantly fuel save throughout a race.
There were not any better drivers to drive this car either. With the combination of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, many still think this to be the best driver combination in the history of Formula 1, and the results showed why. Of the 16 races in 1988, 15 were won by McLaren, with ten 1-2 finishes. McLaren also took 15 poles, 12 front row lockouts, and ten fastest laps. If Prost finished a Grand Prix, he was in either first or second, and Senna took a then-record 13 poles in a season. The only blip in 1988 was the Italian Grand Prix, where Prost was out with engine failure, and Senna crashed into a lapped car, gifting Ferrari a home race win only a month after Enzo Ferrari died.
Anton Hreskiv: “The McLaren MP4/4 is one of the most famous and well-known cars ever. A true masterpiece, driven by the legends Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. A dream car for every racing fan.”
The most recent car on this list, the W07 was the Mercedes’ 2016 challenger. The team had won two titles back to back in 2014 and 2015, and little was expected to change in 2016. A rules change was on the horizon for 2017, and some teams just decided to focus development on the new, wider cars. Mercedes built a new car for the season though, described a “mini-revolution” by the team.
The car was seriously fast, and very reliable. It was only off the podium once throughout the season in Spain and only had one mechanical problem in Malaysia. This car is probably most well-known, like the McLaren MP4/4 and Ferrari 312T, for the incredible title battle, its drivers had at the wheel. This time, it was Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. The battle went to the wire at Abu Dhabi, with Rosberg coming out on top by only five points. The two came together in Spain and Austria, with Hamilton’s retirement in Malaysia also being a key part of the championship battle.
Spain and Malaysia were the only two races the W07 had not won. Rosberg was spun early on in Malaysia which hampered his chances, meaning the other two races were won by Red Bull. The other 19 were won by Mercedes, 10 by Hamilton, and 9 by Rosberg. Alongside this, the team took 20 poles, 33 podiums, and 765 points, all are records for success in an F1 car.
Anton Hreskiv: “The Mercedes W07 is surely one of the most dominant cars in F1 history with 19 race wins. More than that, it gave us the opportunity to witness one of the greatest title battles between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. Last, but not least, the car looks stunning.”
These are our picks for the five greatest Formula 1 cars ever. If you enjoyed it, we have good news, as there are more articles like this in the pipeline as we continue the Motorsports History Month on ASN Motorsports.