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10 Most Iconic Formula One Cars in History

5 minute read

By Katie Ormsby

Key Takeaways

  • Formula One is synonymous with impressive race cars, but some are especially iconic.
  • We’ve combed through more than 70 years of F1 history to find the cars that rise to the top.
  • Keep reading to learn about 10 iconic cars that astonished and amazed Formula One fans.

Ever since its inaugural season in 1950, Formula One has wowed the world with its impressive automotive engineering. Widely considered the highest class of international racing, F1 combines prestige and thrilling competition. Many F1 cars have succeeded over the last 70 decades, but which are the most iconic?

Here are 10 F1 cars that certainly made a mark in automotive history. Each one helped define the sport.

Lotus 72

The Lotus 72 dominated F1 in the first half of the 1970s. According to Goodwood Road and Racing, it won three Constructors Championships, two Drivers titles, and 20 races during six seasons of thrilling competition.

The source calls it a “marvel of technological advancements” because of its wedge-shaped nose. That innovation is credited for the car’s 12 miles per hour increase in top speed over its predecessor, the Lotus 49. Colin Chapman and Maurice Philippe designed the groundbreaking vehicle.

WikiCommons by Lothar Spurzem

McLaren-Honda MP4/4

The McLaren-Honda MP4/4 took the 1988 season by storm, winning 15 out of 16 races. “From a statistical perspective,” F1 Chronicle says, the McLaren-Honda MP4/4 has “proven itself the most dominant car for an entire single season.”

To put that into perspective, the source says the Mercedes F1 W07 Hybrid is the only car in history that’s come close to that record, with 19 wins out of 21 races. McLaren says the vehicle achieved its record because of its light weight, effective downforce, and V6 engine.

Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images

Ferrari F2002

While the Ferrari F2002 didn’t have the most powerful engine of the cars in the 2002 season, Goodwood Road and Racing says it had “far and away the best handling.” As a result, the source says the Ferrari F2002 won the Constructors Championship with about three times as many points as its nearest competitor.

Additionally, HotCars credits the vehicle’s clutchless gearbox for its success. That’s because it “allowed for super-quick gear changes” and “tight rear-end aerodynamics.” The iconic Ferrari F2002 was designed by Rory Byrne, Aldo Costa, and Nikolas Tombazis.

Mark Thompson/Allsport/Getty Images

Red Bull RB9

Red Bull might be better known for its energy drinks, but its F1 cars are also noteworthy. The Red Bull RB9, in particular, is iconic. While Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel won three titles between 2010 and 2014, Sportskeeda says “their 2013 triumph was especially spectacular.”

The Red Bull RB9 was designed by Adrian Newey, who The SportsRush calls a “legendary aerodynamicist.” According to Sportskeeda, his remarkable design won the Constructors title with 596 points.

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Mercedes W07 Hybrid

Mercedes has dominated F1 racing in the era of turbo-hybrid cars. From 2014 to 2020, Sportskeeda says Mercedes won every Constructors and Drivers title — an incredible run, to say the least. The Mercedes W07 Hybrid is the standout of this period.

According to Goodwood Road and Racing, the Mercedes W07 Hybrid had a 90.4% win rate in the 2016 F1 season. That makes it one of the winningest cars in F1 history. The source adds that the Mercedes W07 Hybrid earned “the most points in a championship season (765).”

Jens Buettner/picture alliance via Getty Images

Williams FW14/B

Regulatory control has since banned many of the systems that made the Williams FW14/B so successful, but CNN says it’s “arguably the most sophisticated F1 car of all time.” Technical director Patrick Head and designer Adrian Newey worked out some issues the car had in 1991, which paid off in the 1992 season.

According to the source, the duo focused on refining the gearbox, active suspension, and traction control. The Williams FW14/B went on to dominate in 1992, winning the Constructors and Drivers championships.

National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images

Benetton B195

The Benetton B195 is iconic because it’s the car that Michael Schumacher won his first two of seven championships driving. While Schumacher later became synonymous with Ferrari, his career took off behind the wheel of the Benetton B195.

“Schumacher won nine of the races in 1994-1995,” according to Grand Tour Nation, “and appeared on the podium 11 times when there were only 17 races in the whole season.” HotCars says the Benetton B195 had a powerful V10 engine that produced “over 675 hp at over 15,000 rpm.”

Hoch Zwei/Corbis via Getty Images

Mercedes-AMG W11 EQ Performance

The Mercedes-AMG W11 EQ Performance is another Mercedes that ranks among the most iconic F1 cars of all time. It’s the vehicle that powered Lewis Hamilton to his record-equalling seventh championship. So, it has a spot in the history books for that fact alone.

The car itself also scores points for its innovative design. For instance, HotCars highlights the vehicle’s dual axis steering system. This allowed the driver to change the angle of the front wheels by pushing and pulling the steering wheel, giving “more grip in certain parts of the track.”

WikiCommons by Alberto-g-rovi

Ferrari 156

The Ferrari 156, also known as the Sharknose, is a true classic. After it swapped a 65-degree Ferrari Dino V6 engine for a Carlo Chiti-designed 120-degree engine, Goodwood Road and Racing says the Ferrari 156 emerged as the car of the season in 1961.

According to the source, the Chiti engine had “smoother power delivery and more of it to boot.” It won the Constructors and Drivers championships. However, the Ferrari 156 is associated with tragedy. Wolfgang von Trips was driving one when he fatally collided with another car.

Michael Cole/Corbis via Getty Images

Brawn BGP 001

Brawn proves you don’t have to invest in years of F1 racing to make history. As HotCars puts it, Brawn managed to win both the Constructors and Drivers championships “in their first and only season in Formula 1” with the Brawn BGP 001.

So, you could say it has a 100% success rate when it comes to F1 championships. The source says the Brawn BGP 001’s combination of a 750 hp engine and a “dynamic aerodynamic package” won the 2009 season. This one-and-done F1 car is definitely iconic.

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Katie Ormsby

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