Modern Grand Prix cars are generally rather ugly things. I know that this comment might cause some angst among the readership, and that many of you will argue that modern cars’ flicks and farings are incredibly forms of art, but many of these things are, to me, very ugly.

These are technical masterpieces, fine-tuned to the tiniest detail in the wind-tunnel and the most complex of CFD models, but they’re still not pretty.

The advent of the carbonfibre monocoque and the continual tightening of regulations since the 1980s have seen Formula 1 cars assume a generally more uniform shape over the course of time. It’s often asked that if one season’s cars were all painted white, could you identify each model?

The Ugly Duckling However, the continually amended rules are written with so many varying loopholes that designers will always find ways of exploiting them.

Sometimes, these concepts are banned as swiftly as they arrive, typically on the grounds of safety or unfair competitive advantage. Other times, these design concepts become part of F1’s visual landscape – an example would be the ‘shark fin’ concept pioneered by Red Bull Racing in 2008 that is near-ubiquitous on today’s grid.

Some concepts prove breathtaking in their beauty and form. Some other concepts, however, are ugly to the core. And in the truest argument that beauty lies very much in the eye of the beholder, let’s have a look at the Richard’s F1 Top-10 “Seriously Ugly Design Concepts”…

The rules of fairly straightforward: The concept must have been trialled in an official practice session on a Grand Prix weekend to qualify, so this immediately rules out ridiculous untried design concepts, such as the Copersucar 1 or the 6-wheeled March 2-4-0.


10. The ‘Walrus Nose’ of the Williams BMW FW26, 2004

Perhaps anyone who deems the ‘walrus nose’ on the 2004 BMW Williams FW26 a thing of beauty might need to see an optometrist, or indeed a psychiatrist.

The Grove-based team shocked all comers at the start of the 2004 season by Williams Walrus Nose unveiling a completely different front end treatment. Gone was the long, tapered nose section of its predecessors and its contemporaries, and in came this short, stubby structure complete with twin “tusks” that acted as the front wing mounting.

The idea behind this design stemmed from the need to integrate a twin-keel suspension design onto the chassis. In theory, the concept – thought up by the team’s aerodynamicist Antonia Terzi – should provide better airflow under the car, and although it proved quick in pre-season testing, it was horribly inconsistent during the season and effectively started the departure from competitiveness that the team has never recovered from.

By the mid-season Hungarian Grand Prix, Terzi was eased aside and a more conventional front end was installed, immediately bringing about an improvement in the team’s fortunes, and Juan Pablo Montoya took victory at the final race of the season in Brazil (the team’s last victory to-date).


9. The ‘Forklift’ rear wing of the March Ford 751, 1975

March 751 Rear Wing March 751
That March rear wing certainly wasn’t going to win any beauty contests…

Is it a pair of fairy wheel attachments to stop the car from tipping over? A miniature set of stairs for team boss Max Mosley’s soapbox? A forklift tray for carrying the March team’s freight?

In any case, we’re sure about one thing: the March 751 rear wing was damn ugly. Designed perhaps as a precursor to the modern-day rear diffuser, the side-platforms’ purpose was to smooth out the air flow at the rear of the car.

It certainly didn’t have the same effect on people’s retinae!


8. The Nose Wings of the Jordan Honda EJ11 and Arrows Asiatech A22, 2001

Arrows Nose Wing Jordan Nose Wing
The Arrows (left) and Jordan (right) nose wing designs tried – and banned – for the 2001 Monaco GP.

Setting a car up for the Monaco Grand Prix – home to F1’s slowest circuit  – is all about maximising downforce, and designers will often look for novel solutions to claw back more grip in a bid for competitiveness on the most glamorous circuit on the calendar.

In the 2001 event, just Jordan and Arrows decided to push the envelope, and resoundingly had their knuckles rapped for concepts that – while particularly ugly – were actually perfectly legal interpretations of the rules.

Perhaps they were inspired by a certain Eifelland F1 car from 1972 (more on that later!)

Mounted on the nose cone of the Arrows A22 was a front wing that mimicked the strut-mounted wings last seen on F1 cars in the 1960s. The 50cm-wide wing was mounted perfectly within regulations, but on some unsightly endplates. So concerned was Arrows that rival teams may be tempted to copy the design that they’d even constructed a special fabric hood to place over the top of the wing!

While perhaps a little less inelegant, Jordan’s solution was remarkably similar in its intentions, if not its execution. Relocating the wing that had previously been mounted on the engine cover, the designers decided to mount it at a height of 80cm atop the chassis scuttle.

The FIA’s technical delegate, Jo Bauer took a dim view of each design and deemed that they constituted a safety hazard under Article 2.3 of the Good Taste Sporting Regulations, and promptly banned them.


7. The ‘Dumbo Ears’ of the Honda RA108, 2008

How do you make a crap car ugly? Simple, whack more appendages onto it!

That’s what the tecchies at the Honda Racing team decided might improve the pig-awful RA108 chassis, which followed its predecessor’s – the RA107 – trend of being truly awful.

Both cars were designed by the board-appointed Technical Director, Shuhei Nakamoto, a man who had no previous experience with F1 aero and whose background lay in motorcycles. Quite a different kettle of fish, one would have thought, but the Honda management decided to place its faith in him anyway.

Honda Dumbo Ears The end result was two chassis with little rigidity and an appalling lack of mid-corner grip, netting its drivers – Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello – a handful of points’ finishes in two miserable seasons. The addition of more and more wings and aero flicks – the worst being the unsightly ‘dumbo ears’ mounted on the nose cone – did nothing to improve the situation.

Eventually, Ross Brawn was brought in to try and salvage the operation. But the Honda board took the decision – on the back of the flagging global economy – to abandon ship and cut its losses at the end of the season.

An eleventh-hour buy-out by Brawn saw the team saved and renamed Brawn GP, which promptly went on to win both Championships in 2009 using what would have been the Honda RA109 chassis…

6. The ‘Periscope Mirror’ of the Eifelland Ford 21, 1972

We have already covered some of the weird and wonderful designs of the 1970s, and here is yet another example to feast your eyes upon!

The owner of the Eifelland caravan company, Günther Henerici, decided to take the next step from a sponsorship role into marketing his products by dint of setting up his own F1 team. Advised to approach Swiss designer Luigi Colani (the designer of the original Mazda Miata MX5), the end result was the Type-21: a car like which you will be unlikely to ever see again.

A futuristic, swooping one-piece rear wing; a one-piece cockpit with an airbox at the front; an enclosed one-piece front wing with additional air intakes. And then… a Eifelland Periscope Mirror one-piece periscope mirror stick up right in front of the driver!

Based on the platform of the – what turned out to be – rather useless March 721 chassis, the Eifelland 21 was quickly found out to be lacking downforce in spite of the ambitious boasts from Colani. Suffering from a lack of cooling, it was stripped down considerably before the opening round in South Africa to feature a more conventional front and rear wing, but still with the bespoke periscope mirror.

The lack of tengible results with Rolf Stommelen behind the wheel caused Henerici to realise that he wasn’t reaping the financial rewards from his investment, and the pin was pulled from the project before the season was out.


5. The ‘Tea Tray’ wing of the March Ford 711, 1971-2

The 1970s provided F1 designers with an enormous array of challenges and perhaps greater technical freedom with which to identify and present solutions to these challenges.

Aerodynamics were assuming a greater significance in F1 car design, and the early 1970s saw a host of concepts trialled (and often abandoned).

March Tea-Tray Wing The 1971 season saw the March team – in just its third season in the sport – produce the spectacular 711 chassis. With aerodynamics from Robin Herd, Geoff Ferris and Frank Costin, it featured an ovoid front wing, which team insiders dubbed as the ‘Spitfire’ or ‘Tea Tray’, with reference to its shape and elevation, respectively.

It certainly won no prizes in the beauty stakes, but Ronnie Peterson took the car to five podium places en route to second in the Drivers’ Championship standings. Despite his success in this unusual-looking car, the concept didn’t really catch on with other teams and the ‘tea tray’ phenomenon was short-lived.

4. The ‘Stepladder Nose’ of the Ensign Ford N179, 1979

The advent of ground-effect technology saw a host of radical solutions trialled by the F1 boffins in an attempt to gain more downforce on the underside of the cars.

With the evolution of design having moved the water and oil radiators to the cars’ Ensign Stepladder Nose sidepods, suddenly these items were getting in the way. Moving them out of the way would then allow you to play around with the wing profiles within the side pods and generate more downforce as the air travelled on the underside of the car.

So where can you house the radiators if you can’t put them in the sidepods? Well, in 1979 Ensign boss Mo Nunn and designer Dave Baldwin decided that the nose section of the bespoke N179 might be a good idea.

The result? The drivers now had an alternative means of getting into the cockpit – simply use the stepladder at the front!

3. The ‘Horns’ of the BMW Sauber F1.08, 2008

In 2005, McLaren pioneered the concept of what became known as “Viking Horns”: a pair of angled spines projecting aside the engine cover air box designed to smooth out the passage of air flor around the air box and engine cover themselves.

The concept was adopted by a few other teams – most notably BMW Sauber in 2006 – and started an alarming trend that saw the advent of bridged nose-wings, rear wings in front of rear wings, turning vanes disguised as rearview mirrors, shark-fin engine covers (more on them later!) the list goes on…

BMW Sauber Horns By the 2008 season, F1 cars had so many flicks and frills on them that there was scarcely a smooth surface in sight. As the rules continued to strip downforce away, so the teams developed novel methods of clawing that lost downforce back. Sadly, this generation of cars were never going to win any beauty contest…

By far the most extreme iteration of this era was the 2008 BMW Sauber F1.08 (pictured), which sported more horns and flicks on it than any other car on the grid. Its Viking Horns mounted on top of the nose cone were probably its ugliest feature…

2. The ‘Shark Fin’ of the Red Bull Renault RB4, 2008

In pre-season testing, the Adrian Newey designed RB4 was unveiled with a strikingly ugly aerodynamic feature that still disgraces the grid today: the ‘shark fin’ engine cover.

Red Bull Shark Fin The modification to the conventional engine cover design dramatically increased its surface area and was introduced with the intention of providing better air flow to the rear win and improved braking stability at the rear of the car.

Initial concerns about the effects of cross-winds were quickly negated, and it wasn’t long before the majority of the grid jumped on this bandwagon.

The teams’ marketing departments, in particular, loved the concept, as it gave them an even bigger area (and therefore clout) with which to flog the valuable real estate of the car to prospective sponsors.

Today, the ugly thing is used to house that other – thankfully hidden – aerodynamic design concept: the ‘F-duct’.

1. The ‘X-Wing’ of the Tyrrell Ford 025, 1997

The late Harvey Postlethwaite was a designer of considerable repute, who among other things, had pioneered the concept of the raised-nose design with the 1990 Tyrrell 019 that is now de rigueur in all Formula 1 cars.

Unfortunately, he also pioneered a few concepts that were perhaps neither effective nor visually appealing…

Tyrrell X-Wings In a bid to improve the competitiveness of the bottom-of-the-grid Tyrrell team in 1997, Postlethwaite devised a novel downforce-generating idea to mount additional wins on either side of the cockpit, which later become dubbed as the “X-Wings” on account of their similarity in appearance to the fictional Star Wars fighter craft.

The design idea was not readily jumped upon by rival teams during the season, but the switch to narrow-track cars and grooved tyres for the 1998 season saw the teams scrambling for downforce-generating devices, and several teams followed Tyrrell’s lead with their own iterations of the concept.

Ferrari X-Wing Prost X-Wing Sauber X-Wing Tyrrell X-Wing

By the fourth round of the season in San Marino, almost half the grid – Tyrrell, Ferrari, Jordan, Sauber and Prost – had developed their own versions of this concept, and the FIA made the sensible decision to ban them on the grounds of safety. An eyesore that has thankfully been removed from the F1 landscape…


[Original images via The Cahier Archive, Grand Prix Insider, F1 Fanatic]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.