The greatest Gulf racing liveries: from 1960s Le Mans to modern F1


The famous Gulf Oil livery lives on in Formula 1, with Williams announcing that it will race a one-off version of the blue and orange paint scheme. Will its future be as prosperous as its historic racing past?

Gulf livery header

Klemantaski Collection/Getty Images

Motor sport has produced many iconic liveries, but perhaps none more so than the zenith blue and tangerine orange of Gulf – a brand which entered as a simple sponsor but morphed into a historic staple of success.

It’s a timeless classic — part of the fabric of 1960s and ’70s sports car racing, but also at home on the modern F1 grid.

McLaren ran a one-off Gulf paint scheme at the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix and Williams is the latest F1 team to partner with the American oil company. As part of its sponsorship deal, its FW45 car will carry a full-length blue and orange livery at three grands prix this year.

Fans are being asked to vote for one of four designs that will appear at the Singapore, Japanese and Qatar Grands Prix, 55 years since the oil brand achieved international prominence in the late sixties.

Here are some of the best and most memorable examples of Gulf’s famous racing moments.


Ford GT40 (1968-1969)

1969 Le Mans winning Gulf-liveried Ford GT40 of Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver

Gulf-liveried Ford GT40 of Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver on its way to Le Mans victory in 1969 – a second consecutive win for the same chassis

GP Library via Getty Images

Adorned in Gulf colours, Jacky Ickx and the Ford GT40 won the 1969 Le Mans by one of the tightest margins in the event’s history, with just 120m dividing him and the rival Porsche 908 driven by Hans Herrmann.

From the archive

Ickx and Herrmann had driven virtually wheel-to-wheel throughout the final hour, with the Ford only taking the lead on the final lap and at the end of the Mulsanne straight – utilising the 908’s slipstream to pull past its rival with just five corners to go.

It marked the fourth consecutive Le Mans victory by a Ford team after entering ‘The Great Race’ for the first time in 1966, and the second successive victory for a Ford GT40 wearing the Gulf livery.

Three years before its latest triumph, Gulf had partnered with John Wyer (of JW Automotive Engineering) who helped mastermind Gulf’s inclusion in the World Endurance Championship – a decision that Gulf would ultimately prosper from for years to come.


Porsche 917 (1970-1971)

Gulf Porsche 917K no22 at Le Mans 1970

Car No22 in action at 1970 Le Mans


Although it had already won at Le Mans, the Gulf livery achieved true immortality in the hands of Porsche and its 917. But its real fame was not achieved entirely on-track.

Having won five World Sportscar races already that season, Gulf-JW Automotive’s Porsche 917k entered the 1970 Le Mans as a favourite, its closest rival being the Ferrari 512 S. In an effort to replicate its success with Ford, Gulf sponsored two 917ks, both painted with the sponsor’s unmistakeable livery, but neither saw the chequered flag.

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A crash on lap 49 for one and a late engine failure for the other derailed Gulf’s chances of a hat-trick of victories at Le Mans, leaving the Salzburg-liveried 917K of Richard Attwood and Hans Herrmann to take a debut victory for the car.

Gulf returned in 1971 to much greater success, with its blue and orange livery driven to second by the 917k of  and Herbert Muller. But even that achievement paled in comparison to what would ultimately hand the Gulf brand motor sports immortality – Steve McQueen’s Le Mans.

The film, which aimed to show its viewers the true grit and horrors of a Le Mans race, was released in July 1971, a month after Porsche’s most recent on-track triumph. Piloting the Gulf Porsche himself, McQueen made the car an instant classic, inspiring the brand’s future involvement in motor sport and ultimately securing its global recognition.


Gulf with McLaren and first F1 entry (1968 – 1974)

McLaren M20 CanAm car

Brands reunite as Denny Hulme pilots a McLaren M20 featuring Gulf sponsorship

Pat Brollier/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images

Despite lacking its recognisable livery and instead plastered with its equally famous badge, Gulf joined forces with McLaren in 1968, supporting its success in Can-Am, Indycar and F1.

Acting as another mark of success, the Gulf sponsored McLaren, driven by the likes of Denny Hulme, Dan Gurney and Bruce McLaren himself, captured 41 race victories across the three series up until 1973 – 35 of them coming in Can-Am.

Gulf Rondini car

In 1969, Gulf had also sponsored Brabham in its pursuit of an F1 world title, in which it fell just short, losing out to the Matra-Ford of Jackie Stewart.

Failing to find championship success in F1, Gulf left its post as a title sponsor of McLaren in 1974, instead only involving itself in occasional livery sponsorships. The first came in 1976, racing the Italian Grand Prix as Scuderia Gulf Rondini Tyrrell-Ford (right).

Gulf-Ford Mirage M8 Ford at Le Mans (1975)

Derek Bell in Gulf Mirage GR8 at Le Mans

Derek Bell and his Mirage GR8: 1975’s winning combination

Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

Following its previous success in endurance racing, Gulf-JW Automotive entered Le Mans once again in 1975, now racing a Ford-Mirage GR8.

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Sports car technical regulation changes in 1972 had banned the use of Porsche’s previously dominant 917, forcing Gulf to change tack in order to stay in the WEC spotlight – forming the Gulf Research Racing Company. Its decision was ultimately rewarded, with the Cosworth-powered Ford-Mirage GR8 driven to victory at Le Mans by Derek Bell and Jacky Ickx in 1975 – naturally dressed in the world renowned Gulf livery once again.

With nothing more to prove, the Gulf-Mirage team was sold shortly after its third Le Mans title, ending Gulf’s involvement in endurance car racing until its welcome return in 1994 – supporting Porsche and Derek Bell’s pursuit of Jack Ickx’s six Le Mans victories. The 53-year-old Briton finished sixth.


Gulf returns to McLaren (1995-1997)

McLaren F1 in Gulf livery at Le Mans 1997

Gulf-liveried McLaren F1 at Le Mans in 1997


As a new century approached, Gulf returned to endurance racing and fixing its previous ties with McLaren with its familiar colours.

Racing a McLaren F1 GTR, the revised Gulf-McLaren partnership won nine races over three seasons in the Global GT Championship, even taking the title in 1996. But for the first two seasons, Gulf reverted back to its official corporate colours for the cars livery – combining a dark blue with bright orange.


Gulf with Aston Martin at Le Mans (2008)

Aston Martin

A pair of Gulf AMR Aston Martin Vantage V8s during the 2013 6h of Silverstone

Darrell Ingham/Getty Images

Aside from a short-lived return to endurance racing in 2001, sponsoring a Gulf themed Audi R8 run by ex-F1 driver Stefan Johansson, Gulf’s next iconic partnership developed in 2008, joining forces with Aston Martin Racing (AMR).

Racing with the DBR9, a car already described by many as one of the most beautiful cars ever made, Gulf helped capture the public’s attention even further, painting it in the brand’s quintessential colours and taking it to Le Mans.

Driven by David Brabham, Antonio García and Darren Turner, the Gulf branded Aston Martin captured its second successive Le Mans victory in the GT1 category, beating close rivals Corvette and Ferrari.


Gulf returns to Formula 1 (2021 & 2023)

Lando Norris is Gulf liveried McLaren at 2021 Monaco Grand Prix

Lando Norris in the 2021 Gulf-liveried McLaren at Monaco

Grand Prix Photo

Gulf turned its attention to F1 in 2020, reviving its previous partnership with McLaren for the third time.

The Gulf logo made its first appearance on an F1 car in over 44 years at the British Grand Prix, in a race which saw Lando Norris finish fifth. Success continued, with both parties prospering from key on-track performances in Italy and Bahrain.

For the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix, Norris and the newly signed Daniel Ricciardo raced with an historic Gulf livery and accompanying race suits – a celebrated combination not seen since, despite mounting pressure from F1 fan bases.

Dreams of reappearance were ultimately laid to rest at the end of the 2022 season, with both brands deciding to part ways once again. Gulf announced a partnership with Williams for the 2023 season and is now asking fans to vote for one of four liveries (below) to be used at three grands prix later in the year.

Williams Gulf liveries