In the more than 60 years of World Championship Grand Prix racing, there are plenty of appalling cars that have appeared, underperformed and then slinked off the grid.
For some, it was a case of a bright idea being poorly executed. Some cars were simply ahead of (or behind) their time. Others were the by-product of appalling team management or a complete lack of testing and development.
But which are the worst? Well, there’s no cut-and-dried formula that you can use when coming up with a shortlist like this…
Outright speed (usually a lack of it) and results have to be taken into account, and the available resources must also be taken into consideration. Also, any new F1 car must be better than its predecessor.
Would the likes of this year’s radical forward-exhaust-facing Renault R31 be a contender? Certainly its innovative design hasn’t translated into the confident pre-season predictions of race wins, and the team’s results have tailed off sharply as the year has worn on. But is it bad enough to make our top-ten?
So, in the spirit of all things subjective, here’s our countdown of the most appalling pieces of machinery that have ever attempted (and in some cases failed) to qualify for a Formula 1 Grand Prix…
10. Ferrari 312T5, 1980
With Ferrari having romped to the 1979 Drivers’ Championship crown with Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve ably piloting its 312T4 chassis, quite how its 1980 chassis – a modified version of the T4, dubbed the ‘312T5’ in this case – could be such a dud is quite the question.
The 1980s season saw rival teams really progress in harnessing the effects of ground effect technology. And while the T4 was the class of the field, the T5 was an utter lemon, starting the team’s 21-year run in not claiming the Drivers’ Championship title.
The problem could largely be tied to the team’s engine layout, with the flat ‘boxer’ 12-cylinder engine not supporting the aerodynamic requirements of the car, making it unwieldy and slow, on top of it being unreliable.
Failing to defend its Constructors’ Championship title, team slumped to tenth in the 1980 standings, with the cherry on top being Scheckter’s failure to qualify at the Canadian Grand Prix.
9. BRM P207, 1977
When a car misses its first race because it’s too big to fit in the shipping container, you just get a sense that it’s going to be a priceless dud.
And this was certainly the case with BRM’s P207 challenger, which was the final and desperate throw of the dice for this once-great outfit before it closed its doors.
Penned by freelance designer Len Terry, the P207 was touted as the car to get BRM back to the front of the grid. It was anything but the case.
Scraping onto the grid at the next round at Brazil, the car retired after a single lap with an overheating engine – the car had only enjoyed a single day’s testing during the Christmas winter at Silverstone. Brazil’s rather-less temperate climate was simply too much…
But cooling was the least of the awful car’s problems, as it would go on to accumulate a sequence of failures to qualify over the remainder of the season, despite having talented pilots likes Guy Edwards, Teddy Pilette and Larry Perkins at the wheel.
The big car’s cause wasn’t helped by team boss Louis Stanley insisting that the car be saddled with the outfit’s bespoke, underpowered V12 engine, rather than opting for the considerably lighter Cosworth DFV unit that was readily available off-the-shelf.
Incredibly, the team elected to field two chassis from the mid-season. It only led to cynical remarks: “Can you imagine? They built one, saw what it was like, and then they built another one…”
8. Williams Mecachrome FW20, 1998
Having claimed three Constructors’ and two Drivers’ championships in the last four years, Williams was certainly the form team in the mid- to late-1990s, culminating in the team romping to claim both championship crowns with Jacques Villeneuve in 1997.
But the team would be rocked by the loss of works Renault engines and the design genius of Adrian Newey, leaving the 1998 FW20 challenger as the first car not bearing his design influence since 1991.
Saddled with what were customer units of their championship-winning Renault engines from the year before, the car adapted poorly to the new grooved-tyre regulations, leaving the team unable to defend their championship titles against McLaren and Ferrari.
Villeneuve and Frentzen claimed just 38 points and three third places between them.
“An unadventurous year with an unadventurous car,” the team’s co-founder Patrick Head would remark at the end of the season. “It was like trying to go racing with a Ford Popular.”
At least Villeneuve could look forward to next year’s car, having jumped ship to the new British American Racing team. Unless…
7. BAR Supertec 01, 1999
When chief designer Adrian Reynard boldly claimed that the absurdly-named British American Racing team would win its maiden F1 race with his ‘01’ chassis, he was saying this on the basis that every Reynard design had won first time out in every category the chassis-builder had competed.
Yet ten months after making this claim, Jacques Villeneuve would have to wait until the season’s twelfth round, the Belgian Grand Prix, before he saw the chequered flag…
For all of the hype – including the laughable ‘Tradition of Excellence’ slogan – the enormous budget, the end result was clear proof that an open chequebook can’t buy happiness, or championship points.
The only team on the grid not score a single point all year, the team’s maiden season was blighted by a catalogue of managerial blunders and infighting, poor PR stunts, and a hideous livery. Instead, the team should have just concentrated on the core business of going racing.
6. BMS Scuderia Italia Lola Ferrari T93/30, 1993
The Scuderia Italia outfit had achieved modest results in their five years in the sport, but the 1993 season saw the outfit part ways with its traditional chassis builder, Dallara.
In stepped the Lola firm to do the honours for 1993, and paired with Ferrari engines and a mix of youth and experience with drivers Luca Badoer and Michele Alboreto on the books, it should have been a very good combination.
Going against the grain at the team, the car was not fitted with any of the mod-cons seen on rival F1 cars, including active suspension and traction control.
Simply, it was a very agricultural car that took the definition of ‘conventional’ to the extreme. Its handling was described as “undriveable” by both pilots, who racked up seven failures to qualify between them.
But the T93/30 proved to be a complete disaster, and it led to both Scuderia Italia and Lola blaming the other. The team event sent consulting engineer Sergio Rinland to Lola’s headquarters in a bid to get to the root of the problems in the T93/30, but he was refused entry to the building!
Before the season was out, team owner Beppe Lucchini pulled the pin on the entire operation.
5. Ligier Judd JS31, 1988
The Ligier team management was rather famous for their long champagne-filled lunch meetings, and it was rumoured that the team’s 1988 challenger, the JS31, was conceived during one of these events.
Designed by Michel Tétu and Michel Beaujon, the JS31 sported several fuel tanks to help achieve a better balanced weight distribution. In all, there were two cells either side of the driver, another between the driver and the engine and a fourth between the engine and gearbox!
Despite the best efforts of drivers René Arnoux and Stefan Johansson, the car – the team’s first non-turbo car since 1981 – failed to score a point and was a complete disaster. Johansson failed to qualify six times and never finished above ninth while seven-time Grand Prix winner Arnoux failed to qualify twice and never finished a race better than tenth.
The car’s major lack of grip often caused Johansson to remark that he had to adopt a wet-track driving style.
“We used to joke that it had aerodynamics by Galileo,” he once said. “The only thing that kept it on the ground was gravity.”
4. Ferrari F92A, 1992
Ferrari’s radical twin-floor F92A was designed to rebuild the fortunes of the then-flagging marque, but it simply served to plunge the team further into oblivion.
The concept, on paper and in the windtunnel, was ingenious and was the creation of newly-appointed aerodynamicist Jean-Claude Migeot: suspend an independent floor beneath the car’s sidepods in a bid to create more downforce.
Migeot’s ideas clashed with Steve Nichols, the team’s Technical Director, who was sacked the day the F92A was unveiled to the motorsport world.
The entire package dramatically failed to gel, and the team collected a miserable 21 points all year – Jean Alesi’s pair of third-placed finishes were far more than the car deserved.
Development of the car completely ground to a halt after May’s San Marino Grand Prix, with the team quickly diverting its attentions to next year’s car design.
3. Prost Peugeot AP03, 2000
If there was any justification as to why Alain Prost could balance awesome driver skill with appalling leadership abilities, then the 2000 season’s AP03 challenger was all the evidence needed.
After some occasional flashes of form in previous years, the team was targeting fifth in the Constructors’ Championship with its Alan Jenkins-designed car. Engine supplier Peugeot had brought in a massively-upgraded V10 engine, and things were looking bright when the car proved ultra-quick in pre-season testing.
Now that’s typically an outcome of running ultra-light, and it proved to be little more than a cynical attempt to pick up a few more sponsors before the racing started. To the sponsors’ disappointment, their investment was truly wasted, and both Jean Alesi and Nick Heidfeld could do little with this badly-balanced car.
Not surprisingly, the team dispensed with Jenkins before the mid-season.
The end result was zero points, countless retirements, and Peugeot parting ways at the end of the season. With things going from bad to worse, the team collapsed by the end of the following year.
2. MasterCard Lola Ford T97/30, 1997
In what is undoubtedly the worst foray into F1 in the last fifteen years, Lola succumbed to sponsor pressure to fast-track its 1998 entry into the 1997 season.
Preparation is everything in Formula 1, and Lola’s story is a prime example of how not to stage a crack at top-flight motorsport. With a huge pedigree as a successful chassis-builder, it should never have turned out like this.
In 1996, the team paired up with MasterCard to jointly fund an effort to compete in the 1998 World Championship season, but in November 1997, MasterCard turned the screws on Lola, insisting on a 1997 debut.
The challenger, dubbed the T97/30, was hastily penned and built, but there was so little time that none of the designs ever went through any wind tunnel testing.
Despite this, team boss Eric Broadley was bullish bout the team’s chances, promising to beat fellow debutants, Stewart, while also boasting that the 107% qualifying cut-off wouldn’t be a problem.
Despite having the services of former F3000 frontrunners Vincenzo Sospiri and Ricardo Rosset as drivers, the car’s appalling aerodynamics gave the car too little grip and too much drag.
In the end, neither Sospiri now Rosset came close to qualifying – being 11 and 13 seconds off the pole-sitting pace – and the team closed down its operations ahead of the next round at Brazil, when MasterCard pulled its sponsorship support.
1. Honda RA107, 2007
In 2006, the Honda team racked up a total of 86 points, a fine race win and fourth in the Constructors’ Championship. A year later, the team scraped a best race finish of fifth and scored just six points all season in what would be its penultimate year in the sport. The reason? Look no further than the appalling RA107.
This car tops our list because it was such a letdown from the previous year’s car, which was given to the Super Aguri team for use in 2007. It took until the fourth round of the championship before either RA107 could out-qualify the rebadged RA106.
Penned by newly-arrived technical director Shuhei Nakamoto (whose background was in motorcycle design), the car had no downforce and horrible mid-corner stability. All sorts of ugly adornments were fitted to the car (including the hideous ‘Dumbo ears’ on the car’s nose) to extract more downforce, but to no avail.
Those who recall that year’s Japanese Grand Prix may remember Jenson Button driving around for lap after lap minus the car’s front wing, going to show just how little effect it had on the car’s handling!