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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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