The Force India team’s striking pink livery reveal for the 2017 season – coming about by dint of a major new sponsorship deal – has already had plenty of tongues wagging and jaws dropping to the floor.
“Beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder,” as the saying goes. And nothing could be more true when it comes to a Formula 1 livery.
Former team boss Eddie Jordan once cynically likened Grand Prix cars to “high-speed billboards”, and it’s very much true given they are the advertising platform for their host of advertising and technical partners.
However, there are times when teams have simply got it very wrong when it comes to putting the entire lot together, and the end result is quite the eyesore.
But as ever with our countdowns, what one person dislikes, another will love, and vice-versa. There are plenty of candidates for consideration, but in the spirit of all things subjective, here’s our top-ten ugliest F1 decals in the sport’s 66-year history…
10. Onyx, 1989 – Pink and purple do not go together
Without wishing to be accused of sexism, there is generally good reason that there are few pink cars in Formula 1 and why Force India’s new paint scheme is so unusual. It’s quite simple: the outcome is historically a very ugly Formula 1 livery.
Pink was just a minor feature on the Onyx ORE1 in its debut season, 1989, but when combined with a whole lot of purple, it’s quite a messy look. However, its lead driver Stefan Johansson may be able to rightfully claim that he is the only driver to grace a Formula 1 podium in partly pink overalls, after a flukish third place at that year’s Portuguese Grand Prix.
Come 1990, the pink had been replaced by a fluorescent green, and it was only a marginal improvement. The team folded midway through the 1990 season.
9. Minardi, 2000 – Snot yellow should not be seen on an F1 car
The increased investment from Spanish telco giant Telefonica saw Minardi make its first wholesale livery change in two seasons, ditching its (lately) usual blue and silver scheme to incorporate their chief sponsor’s corporate colours.
The problem was that Telefonica’s corporate colours were blue and a form of fluorescent yellow, and when the latter colour is applied predominantly to the body of a Formula 1 car, it assumed a more lurid snot yellow colour.
It could certainly be argued that the commercial team might have been better off to reverse the colour scheme; while it wouldn’t have made the Ford-powered M02 go any quicker at the hands of Marc Gené and Gastón Mazzacane, it would certainly have spared this livery scheme from inclusion on the top-ten countdown.
8. Honda, 2007-8 – An ‘Earth Dream’ reflects an ‘Earth Nightmare’
On the back of a hugely successful 2006 championship campaign – where Jenson Button had scored more points than any other driver in the second half of the season – Honda entered into the 2007 season brimful of confidence and sure they could mount a serious championship challenge.
The launch of the 2007 challenger, the RA107, was met with great fanfare at London’s Natural History Museum, as it showed a completely different take on the look of a Formula 1 car.
Forgoing sponsorship – having lost British American Tobacco backing in the wake of the fag ad ban – the team instead elected a completely new livery to promote Honda’s environmental desires. The livery of the RA107 depicted a satellite image of the planet earth against the background of space (pictured below).
The concept – as noble as it was – quickly became a laughing stock during a time when F1 was at the height of its excess, blowing millions on test sessions and creating an enormous carbon footprint as the circus travelled the globe.
What made it worse was that Honda’s 2007 car was diabolically bad, with the outfit picking up just 6 points all season. While the livery looked great when the car was stationary, it looked truly awful when the car was moving (which to be fair, was not very quickly at the best of times).
The following year, Honda again opted for an environmental-themed livery detail, this time superimposing sections of the satellite image onto a white background. Sadly again, the RA108 proved little more competitive than its predecessor, and Honda elected with withdraw from F1 competition at the end of the season.
7. Renault, 2007-9 – A paint scheme many likened to ‘baby puke’
A successful F1 livery generally relies on the use of no more than three principal colours. Overload the livery from the colour palette, and it starts to look messy.
Or in the case of the Renault squad between 2007-9, downright ugly. Trying to blend the yellow and blue corporate colours of Le Regie with the orange and white of principal sponsor ING, and the below examples were about the best that the commercial department could achieve. It sure ain’t pretty.
Fortunately for those of us who hadn’t yet gouged our eyes out with blunt sticks, ING dropped Renault after the team was found guilty for its part in the ‘Crashgate’ scandal, and the ING-less yellow and black livery of 2010 was a huge improvement on the previous three seasons’ efforts.
6. Williams, 1998-9 – Winfield red does not a good livery make…
Many believe Williams’ colours to be synonymous with the Rothmans blue and white scheme, and this colour was carried by the team long before it even had Rothmans sponsorship, for a similar colour combination was used during its Camel cigarettes’ sponsorship days of the late 1980s through to the early 1990s.
Williams’ principal tobacco sponsor, British American Tobacco, decided to switch from the traditional promotion of its Rothmans brand to its better-selling Winfield brand, and the team duly altered its livery ahead of the 1998 season to reflect this.
However, many will regard the 1998-9 period as the team’s worst from a livery perspective, and there were few who were dismayed when the team – under its new BMW engine supply deal – turfed all tobacco advertising in favour of more blue-chip sponsors in 2000.
And cue a return to the traditional blue and white colour scheme we see today…
5. Rebaque, 1979 – Mexican racing brown?
Mexican driver Hector Rebaque raced in Formula 1 in his own team during 1978 and 1979, driving customer Lotuses – he also commissioned his own car, the dreadful Rebaque HR100. That’s a topic for another article…
The Lotus 79 was one of the most iconic and innovative cars in Formula 1 history with its incredible ground-effect technology, made all the better by its sleek black-and-gold paint scheme courtesy of title sponsor John Player Special cigarettes.
Rebaque, however, decided to go against the grain. He painted his car brown.
Nothing looks good in brown.
4. BAR, 1999 – Two-sided livery didn’t match
And here we have another particularly shining, smelly example from British American Tobacco, who decided that sponsorship wasn’t just enough for them, so team ownership should be the next step.
In stepped the management to buy out the floundering Tyrrell squad, and the BAR bigwigs hoped to use F1 to promote their two newer brands: Lucky Strike cigarettes and 555 cigarettes.
It had hoped to run the cars of Jacques Villeneuve and Ricardo Zonta with separate liveries for each, but Formula One Management deemed it a breach of its sporting code and threatened the team with its entry being cancelled it it didn’t comply.
So the boys in the paint shop decided to promote both colour-clashing decals on the one car, splitting the livery straight down the middle and joining it with a crude zip along the nose.
As far as imagination went, this was a very clever idea. But it terms of aesthetics, this was not their finest hour.
For the remaining years until it was bought out by Honda, BAR resorted to far more conventional – and certainly more boring – livery designs, which amounted to nothing more than a white car with its sponsors’ stickers over the top.
3. Ligier, 1993 – Gitanes, or guano?
The 1993 season presented a remarkable upswing in form and results for the Ligier squad, which had endured a drought of decent results dating as far back as 1986.
The Renault-powered JS39 had helped Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell to three podium finishes between them, and the future looked bright for the French-backed squad.
Perhaps taking a decision to celebrate, or perhaps their paint shop boys were on leave, but the squad decided to change its more traditional Les Bleus decal for the final two races in Japan and Australia for one devoted exclusively to its title sponsor, Gitanes.
Perhaps the paint job was meant to resemble the wafts of tobacco smoke drifting into the sky, but the finished product made the two cars look like they’d been set upon by a large flock of birds performing a mass dropping.
2. McLaren, 1986 – Marlboro … yellow?
F1 fans will well recall that the Marlboro cigarette sponsorship of McLaren in the 1980s was an image synonymous with Formula 1. The red and white decal made the cars instantly recognisable on the grid – with the exception of the early 80s, when Alfa Romeo ran a near-identical livery – and it became a common association to see the ‘red and whites’ up front with the cancer stick signs plastered all over them.
The mid-1980s saw some national governments – particularly those in France, Germany and Britain – start to tighten their restrictions on tobacco advertising, and McLaren would find itself replacing the Marlboro branding with a more sanitised version to please the Health Minister of the particular host nation.
So what strategy do you adopt when the tobacco advertising is a little more liberal? Well, in 1986 the Formula 1 circus headed to Portugal’s Estoril circuit for just the third time and the marketing executives decided that a promotion of one of the country’s most popular Marlboro derivatives wouldn’t be out of order.
The problem was … the best-selling in the brand was a yellow packet, and Keke Rosberg – who was himself extremely partial to a cigarette in his racing days – duly found his McLaren stripped of its fearsome red and given a more jaundiced hue.
The one-off livery did Keke no favours, for he retired after 41 laps with an electrical failure.
1. Brabham, 1992 – Pink and purple still do not go together
The 1992 season saw the once brilliant Brabham team suffering a terminal decline and at death’s door. Faced with a fortune in mounting debts, the team was forced to take on pay-driving lady racer Giovanna Amati for the opening rounds to bolster its much-depleted coffers.
But her lack of speed behind the wheel of a year-old car ensured non-qualification at every attempt, and she was summarily dropped while Williams test driver Damon Hill jumped aboard to partner Eric van de Poele.
And when you can’t get onto the grid, you may as well get attention in another manner, and so Brabham opted for a livery change mid-season, scrapping its traditional blue and white hues for a lurid combination of blues, purple and hot pink. One would have thought they’d have learned from Onyx’s example…
The car was as visually appealing as it was on-the-pace, and the outfit folded after Damon Hill managed to haul the car onto the grid – just the second time he’d achieved a race start all season – at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
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