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F1 History F1 Opinion 36

When Formula 1 turned ugly

If it looks right, it is right: Renault AK 90CV, Bugatti Type 35, Alfa Romeo Tipo B, Maserati 250F, Lotus 25, and 72, Ligier JS11, McLaren MP4/4 and Ferrari 641.

There are, of course, exceptions to this ‘rule’. It is possible to be ugly and good rather than bad: Jack Brabham’s bug-like Coopers, the stubby 1973 Tyrrells of Jackie Stewart and François Cevert, Ferrari’s stumpy 126C3, with its barn-door rear wing, and Michael Schumacher’s beaky Benettons.

opinion history  When Formula 1 turned ugly

Chances are that the most successful Formula 1 car of 2012 will be added to the latter list, for although we can’t yet know which it will be, we can predict with near certainty that it will be ugly. (Only the McLaren MP4-27 does not offend the eye.)

The teams are blaming the rule-makers – and the rule-makers the teams – for the stepped schnozzes besmirching our sport’s pinnacle category. Well, would you lay claim to a car seemingly constructed from Lego? And I’m talking Duplo, not Technic.

Yes, form must follow function in this competitive environment, but on this occasion its face has been spited – on behalf of improved driver safety, it must be said. A lowered nose should provide better protection to the head of a driver at the sharp end of a T-boning. Engineers complained, however, that they would have to design entirely new cars to accommodate revised suspensions. Hence: one batch of rules for the nose, another for the rest of the chassis.

We will get used to these preposterous proboscides, I’m sure – the desensitisation has begun already – but will we ever grow to love them?


My Six of the Worst heebie-GPs (below) will not meet with universal approval because one man’s Brussels sprout – I’m a vegetarian – is another man’s poison. I defy anyone to describe any of my selections as tasteful yet I will sympathise with those who feel beholden to one or two, maybe even three or all, of them.

Hey, everybody has a guilty motor sport secret or six.

Right, those of you of a nervous aestheticism should avert your eyes. Now!

opinion history  When Formula 1 turned ugly

1980 Ferrari 312 T5
The T4 of 1979 would have been included here but for its sufficient power, speed, reliability, tyre grip and driver talent that covered for those manifest aero deficiencies. Its updated successor cannot be so redeemed. It bombed: 105 fewer points scored. Even when it sloughed its hideous skin, it looked like an autograss special.

opinion history  When Formula 1 turned ugly

1979 Ensign N179
Declutter the sidepods to smooth and maximise the flow of low-pressure air through them. Makes sense. Ah, but where to put all those rads? Erm, surely not stacked in the nose. Oh dear. End result: the world’s fastest ‘step ladder’ – and a slow F1 car.

opinion history  When Formula 1 turned ugly

1995 McLaren MP4/10
You know, the one with a mid-wing atop its unlovely engine cover. The car looked huge and yet Nigel Mansell struggled to squeeze his Mid-Ohio spread into it. An embarrassing, but lucky, escape.

1935 Trossi-Monaco
Its nose-mounted radial engine made it look like an antediluvian Hoover. Count Carlo Felice Trossi hoped to clean up with it. Sadly, this front-wheel-drive machine sucked, then blew.

opinion history  When Formula 1 turned ugly

1981-’82 Toleman TG181/B/C
The team called it the ‘General Belgrano’. There was a hint of genuine affection in the nickname – and a whole dollop of truth. Designer Rory Byrne went on to smaller and better-looking things.

opinion history  When Formula 1 turned ugly

1956 Bugatti Type 251
Because of its hunchbacked pushmi-pullyou look – and wayward handling – its poor driver, Maurice Trintignant, didn’t know whether he was coming or going, even on the arrow straights of Reims. This, thankfully, was the car’s last reported sighting.

What about March’s 711, with its tea-tray front wing? you ask.

Why that elliptical shape looked so right on RJ Mitchell’s Supermarine Spitfire and yet so wrong on R Herd’s F1 car – its front wing was a Frank Costin-creation – I cannot be sure. But it did.

opinion history  When Formula 1 turned ugly

Why I love the car so, even so, I cannot be sure either. But I do. There, my ‘guilt’ is no longer secret.

Had it not been for Stewart aboard a (less stubby) Tyrrell, Ronnie Peterson, in only his second season of F1, would have become world champion in his works 711. Yep, it’s another of those ugly exceptional exceptions.

And such a success might have made the raised nose de rigueur in F1 19 years before Jean-Claude Migeot cocked a snook at convention – and beauty – with his game-changing Tyrrell 019.

Which is sort of where I came in, all sniffy about suchlike.

Add your comments

36 comments on When Formula 1 turned ugly

  1. Alex Cox, 9 February 2012 09:43

    My Scalextric set came with a Lotus 72 and a March 711. I loved that red car, even though the front wing kept falling off and had to be stuck on with BluTac.

    Only the Brabham BT52B was better looking, IMHO.

    In terms of ugliness, Tyrrell’s six-wheeler always struck me as a minger. And the Toleman TG182 that Derek Warwick scored his first points in, and Ayrton Senna made his debut in looked a bit like an Argos’-own-brand vacuum cleaner.

    I remember an Eiffeland with a single mirror, mounted high in front of the driver, which just looked daft.

    The first ATS (driven by no fewer than 7 drivers in one season, I think: Couldn’t Gunther Schmidt get on with anyone?) looked like a bathtub welded on top of a flatbed truck

  2. AJ Ball, 9 February 2012 13:32

    Never had a problem with the ’79 Ferrari – for me the worst thing about it is the yellow stickers on the unpainted silver wings – it looks so cheap. The March is quite elegant in it’s own particular way, I wouldn’t call it ugly.
    But that McLaren is one of the most hideous creations let loose on a race track – that weird nose that just looks wrong in every way and is compounded by sticking a tiny number right on the end.

  3. Ray T, 9 February 2012 15:54

    I remember that Ensign, all the hot radiator air was dumped right onto the driver. Undrivable.
    Of course you’ll get ugly when form follows function, and not aesthetics. The 1979 Gold Warsteiner Arrows capped one of the ugliest seasons in F1.

    I think Ferrari did worse than Villenueve’s “pantofala” (boot) with the 1972 Ferrari 312 B3S ‘Spazzaneve’ (snow plow). Mamma mia..she’s no sexy.

    It’s fantastic in the Italian press when Ferrari gets it wrong, the nicknames come out in minutes.

  4. Martin Tomlinson, 9 February 2012 16:57

    Throw these into the mix!

    rear-engined Alfetta
    1957 Connaught ‘Toothpaste Tube (name says it all!)
    1963 ATS (not the one mentioned above, but the one that wrecked Phil Hill’s F1 career)
    1969 Cosworth FWD
    … and the Lancia D50 (the 1956 Ferrari version was better, but still not a looker until the pannier tanks disappeared – (Tipo 801)
    Agree about the Eiffeland March and the Arrows.

    Didn’t Bruce McLaren used to say ‘If it looks right, it probably is …’ (or something along those lines)?

  5. Paul Fearnley, 9 February 2012 17:05

    Jano’s original D50 is achingly beautiful – in my eyes.

  6. dave cubbedge, 9 February 2012 17:07

    great stuff here….

    shouldn’t the open-wheeled Mercedes W196 be included? It wasn’t anywhere nearly as sexy as the streamliner, but it did go like the wind…..

    the air-cooled V8 Honda of 1968 had way too many ducts….

    One of those Tecnos from 1972/73 looked like it was designed by a box manufacturer. All square edges….

  7. Martin Tomlinson, 9 February 2012 18:11

    I’d forgotten about the Tecnos – hopefully Chris Amon has too!
    the short-nosed Cooper-Maserati was pretty grim as well

  8. Tom, 9 February 2012 22:27

    Some fantastic car nicknames emerging here! That’s a topic worth its own article. I remember the wide-fit Mansell-sized version of that McLaren being called the ‘Big Mac’, and wasn’t there a ‘Flying Teapot’ in the 70s (something that often had smoke pouring out of a giant air intake, I guess)

    Many have fond memories of Jordan’s first F1 car, but the second one was a taller, uglier hunchback sister with a nasty colour scheme, and it was slow as.

  9. Chris Hall, 9 February 2012 22:40

    The Flying Teapot was the Ligier but the huge airbox which gave it that name disappeared during the 1976 season due to a rule change. I always thought the ” lobster claw” Brabham was pretty ugly, in fact didn’t like any of the mid 70′s Brabhams from an aesthetic point of view primarily due to the nose and sidepod configurations. Also the 1967 – 8 Cooper-Maserati looked plain fat !!

  10. Rich Ambroson, 10 February 2012 07:10

    That 1995 spec McLaren is a really flying piece of bacon…

  11. Rich Ambroson, 10 February 2012 07:18

    I agree with Paul Fearnley here that the Lancia D50 was a very pretty little car.

    Ray T, I also like the Arrows A2 for some reason, but nothing like I do the D50.

    Dave Cubbedge brings up a good point noting the difference in aesthetics between the W154 Streamliner (gorgeous), and the open wheeled version (form follows…).

  12. Rich Ambroson, 10 February 2012 07:19

    Chris, wasn’t the teapot nickname applied to the Renault Turbo when it first came out, and was blowing all the time?

  13. Greg Price, 10 February 2012 08:30

    Whist Jim Hall produced some great looking cars, to my mind the Chaparral 2J is just hideous. I know it was form over function but I never understood the bare aluminium centre section, it just looked like three boxes quickly stiched together.

  14. Greg Price, 10 February 2012 09:15

    That should of course have been function over form!

  15. Paul Fearnley, 10 February 2012 09:34

    Luscious 2E more than compensates for 2J

  16. Greg Price, 10 February 2012 12:30

    OK, we’ll let them off!

  17. rob widdows, 10 February 2012 13:57

    Clear winner of a beauty contest is Dan Gurney’s Eagle-Weslake Grand Prix car. In a top ten the next nine places are taken by Gordon Murray’s Brabhams and McLarens.
    In the Uglies class it has to be most of the Marches and most of the Arrows cars.
    What a great story from Paul, as ever, and one to really get us all up onto our soapbokes.

  18. Paul Fearnley, 10 February 2012 14:25

    Handsome Dan in sensual Eagle with sonorous Weslake V12 charmed the F1 senses like no other combination.

    Take a bow, designer Len Terry. The ‘Fastest Pencil in the West’ was an engineer with an artistic background. And didn’t it show.

  19. Ray T, 10 February 2012 15:12

    Murray’s Brabhams always looked fast.
    The 75-76 Ferrari 312T and T2 were very pretty.
    The form following function comment has one exception: Ligier in the 70s, it’s as if they gave up and just let one designer go insane, particularly with the ’75 JS5. Ligier -Matras are clearly cars that should be heard, not seen. (funny, the web has cut-and-pasted the same description of the JS5 as 1976 season, but those snorkels were banned in 76).

    The Lotus 49 and 72 remain iconic, decades later.

  20. Paul Fearnley, 10 February 2012 16:37

    Yet a 1980 Ligier JS11/15 – shorn of front winglets and skinny of rear wing – is an object of slavering desire.

  21. Lewis Lane, 10 February 2012 17:02

    The Eifelland 21 with it’s ludicrous mirror and vent in front of the cockpit, and the Stanley-BRM 201 which looked like three different cars fighting over the same chassis… The JS11 was never to me a thing of great beauty, but God did it have charisma. 250F – mmm! Any 60′s pre wing car is pretty, Williams 06 is achingly pretty, and any of Gordon Murray’s mid 70′s Brabham’s do it for me. Every era has it’s ugly and beautiful cars (depending on your standpoint), but i hate the fact that ugliness seems to have been largely regulated in, and i hope it’s changed soon – these cars are supposed to have a degree of aspiration and desire to them…

  22. Andrew 27, 10 February 2012 17:18

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder! I loved the T4. No it’s not pretty in a 79/FW07/BT49 way, but it was ‘functional’. And it finished second at Dijon in ’79 and that forgives it everything.The picture of Jody in Bahrain two years ago in that car was a beaut.

    I don’t think there was much between a T4 and a T5 in speed terms, the opposition had moved on a couple of seconds, but if the T5 had been reliable from the start, I think Villeneuve could well have had two second places in Argentina and Long Beach. And without having to take to the escape road at Monaco at the first corner because of the flying Tyrrell there, second or third perhaps?

    If McLaren should have been fined for anything it is THAT car! I bet they were all wearing balaclavas when that was revealed!

    Anyone got the Motorsport calendar? The Feb picture is the classic from the start of the Brazilian GP in 1980, Ligier JS11/15 DFV, Goodyear tyres; Ferrari T5 flat 12 Michelin Tyres; Renault RE22 V6 turbo, Michelin tyres. Villeneuve about to lead the only lap led by a Ferrari in all of 1980. Two French drivers, one French Canadian. One driver would lose his life in an F1 car, the other two would have their careers finished by leg breaking shunts in F1 cars. There are so many memories in that one picture, three very different cars, all interesting in their own way, non in my eyes that ugly, and at least you can tell what is what!

    Clarkson would sum up this years Ferrari offering in two words: ‘Oh dear.’

  23. hamfan, 10 February 2012 18:01

    This year’s cars took a couple of days to get used to, but I already think they look good in a cutting-edge, hi-tech kinda way. These flat knife-like noses look like blades for scything through the air – pretty good. Much easier to acclimatize the eye to than the horrible shark fins of a few years back. Good stuff. Let’s hope the racing is closer than last year. Can’t wait for the F1 channel to start broadcasting.

    PS That MP4/10 is the worst of the lot – fat nose, fat body, weird-shaped backside – not my kinda girl at all..

    PPS MP4/4 is hard to beat for pure cleanliness of lines – and it helps that it was probably the all-time most dominant car.

  24. chris b, 12 February 2012 18:14

    whilst agreeing with Rob and Paul to a certain degree re Dan’s Eagle the most beautiful F1 car was for me the Lotus 79 – and its those smooth lines that do it for me

    as a long term motor racing fan- i always thought all Formula One Marches were pretty ugly contraptions,

  25. Chris Hall, 12 February 2012 19:19

    Rich Ambroson, I’m sure you’re right about the Renault though I must admit I only remember the Ligier having the teapot moniker

  26. rob widdows, 13 February 2012 12:09

    Speaking of ‘handsome Dan’ and the sensual Eagle, he and his long career will be celebrated at the Goodwood Revival in September with a grid full of cars he raced and/or built. Should be at ribute to remember and I hope he will receive the welcome he deserves.
    Ligiers – yes! The beauty was the noise……………!

  27. Piero Dessimone, 15 February 2012 22:19

    Here is my list of my favourite looking F1 cars:
    Eagle Weslake – Lotus 49 – Lotus 72 – McLarenM23 – ShadowDN5 – Brabham BT44 –
    Ferrari 312T- Lotus 79 – WilliamsFW06 – WilliamsFW07 -Ligier JS11/15 – McLarenMP4(81/82 models) –
    Mclaren MP4/4 – Jordan 191.
    Maybe I am getting too old but I find it very difficult to get used to the current cars. In the last 10 years the looking of the cars has gone from bad to worst and the 2012 cars are disgusting only the McLaren has a decent looking.

  28. Paul Fearnley, 17 February 2012 12:26

    Jordan 191. Yes, yes, yes.

  29. Piero Dessimone, 17 February 2012 22:46

    Dear Mr. Fearley,
    I am very pleased you agree with me. I tried to put my favourite looking cars in chronological order and the Jordan 191 is the last car I can recall showing what a Formula 1 car should be.

  30. Piero Dessimone, 17 February 2012 22:50

    Dear Mr. Fearnley,
    Please accept my apoligies for the spelling mistake.

  31. Lewis Lane, 18 February 2012 13:12

    Just seen the new Merc – makes the Ferrari look attractive at first glance… Not sure i’d want to be in an accident with one of these noses personally – the Merc’s looks like an artists pallet knife. Couldn’t get my list down to 10, will 15 do? (No particular order): 250F (1957), Ferrari 312B1 (1970), FW06, Tyrrell 007, March 881, Lotus’ 79, 72 and 25, Brabham BT44 and 45B, Wolf WR1, Shadow DN1, Eagle Weslake, Jordan 191, Ligier JS11. (Love the FW07 too, but it does look a bit like a macho Lotus 79). Couldn’t agree more with Piero Dessimone about the cars becoming uglier with time, presumably as regulation and aerodynamic downforce dominates. Good looking F1 cars seemed to peak in the late 70′s. I can’t remember thinking one’s pretty since Newey’s first March (and i’m probably on my own with that one, too)…

  32. Piero Dessimone, 18 February 2012 14:24

    I have also just seen new Mercedes: awful

  33. Jenkins, 19 February 2012 23:30

    You mistakingly included the incredible (I love it) 312 and left out the 1996 Ferrari F310. Shame

  34. A.S. Gilbert, 20 February 2012 01:34

    Yeah, they are vile looking, most of them.
    McLaren take the high (no pun intended) line, with a classy appreciation of form.
    The best compromise, other wise is the Force India, their solution avoids the complete “Geek Beak”, all others have descended to.
    I suspect, FIA in this regulation wanted the McLaren solution, but why or why did they not provide a “suggestion template”.
    That wouldn’t appropriate creativity, but it seems requisite.
    We are hearing rumbles about a “too tight” rules package, so maybe this is visual revenge !
    Racing cars are supposed, to have a modicum of style. Aren’t they?

  35. Lewis Lane, 20 February 2012 20:27

    A.S. Gilbert, i’m afraid i couldn’t include the F310 for two reasons – bargeboards and high cockpit sides, which ruined it for me. Mind you, the previous year’s 412t2 was a looker… For me the 1970 vintage 312b1 epitomises what an F1 car should look like (and i’m not particularly a Ferrari fan). Colour is a factor as well – has anyone noticed how the best looking cars invariably have simple one or two colour liveries? One final note: can anybody eplain how Wolf managed to design one of the best looking cars in 1977, then one of the ugliest – in successive years?
    Love the expression “Geek Beak”, by the way! Hope it gets taken up…

  36. Lewis Lane, 20 February 2012 21:10

    Apologies to both A.S. Gilbert and Jenkins for getting your previous posts mixed up in my reply. I must learn to proof read better.

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