F1’s Greatest Liveries



For over thirteen years, this site has given you our opinions on the best (and worst!) F1 liveries of all time. But the only way to get a definitive list of the greatest ever is to throw it open to the wider public. So that’s what we’ve done in the Great Liveries Poll. Throughout the month of May, voting was open for anyone to submit their list of what they felt were the ten best liveries of all – picking by team and individual season. Each livery was then scored based on the current F1 points system – with every first placing netting it 25 points, 18 for a second place, and so on.

Once the voting was closed, we totted up the points from over 300 vote submissions, but we also had to combine votes where the livery for multiple seasons was clearly essentially the same. The decisions over when to merge and when to keep separate, and where those lines should be drawn, were judgement calls on our part; you may disagree with some of our decisions, you may feel that certain liveries should have been split over multiple entries, or that we’ve made a split where there should be none. However, we made our decisions based partly on our own feelings about the livery, and partly to ensure that we had the most interesting and varied top 20 to write about.

Nevertheless, these decisions haven’t had a huge effect on the overall shape of the voting. Essentially, this is your decision. And so, without further ado, here are the F1 Colours Readers’ 20 Greatest Liveries of All Time

20. Benetton (1986) – 348 points

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We start with a bit of a surprise, and the surprise is that this is the only Benetton car that made it into the list. Neither the garish block-coloured United Colours efforts, nor the 1990s Mild Seven livery, got enough points to crack the top 20 – but the car that does make it is from the team’s very first season in the sport.

It is, though, an absolutely fantastic livery, taking corporate green as a smart base and with the brilliant paint-flash scheme across the rear. In fact, we don’t know why they didn’t stick with it beyond 1986 – but it’s a hugely memorable one-off. Although when they painted the tyres, they did look like Fruit Polos.

19. BMW Sauber Petronas (2006-09) – 349 points

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When BMW took over the Sauber team in 2006, they carried over something quite similar to the blue and white livery they’d run with Williams in previous years – but with the emphasis more heavily on the white, and the introduction of a red accent colour that called to mind the BMW M Motorsport branding.

It was extremely smart, although we’d be tempted to dock points for the fact that they made basically no changes, beyond a bit of sponsor shuffling, across the four seasons they were in the sport. Worth noting, too, that this is the only time Petronas has ever appeared on an F1 car and not demanded a turquoise backing colour.

18. Lucky Strike / 555 BAR (1999) – 399 points

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Routinely held up as one of the worst liveries in F1 history, the debut car from British American Racing has nevertheless endured as something of a cult classic – and here it is as your eighteenth-placed greatest livery ever.

We can wonder about what could have been if the team had been allowed to run both cars – and in the years that followed, they’d make the sensible decision of just sticking to a Lucky Strike livery. But having come up with these designs, the chutzpah they showed in finding a way to run them both anyway does deserve applause, and two decades on we still haven’t seen anything like it in F1 since.

It’s also worth noting how even aside from the split, the two liveries themselves are unlike anything else that was around at the time. They’re light on sponsors, and one’s got wings while the other’s covered in stars. They’re weird. But they’re also two of the most memorable liveries in F1 history, cut-and-shut together into one.

17. MTV Simtek (1994-95) – 426 points

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A shorter-lived livery than anyone involved would have hoped for, as Simtek ultimately only competed in 20 races across 1994 and 1995. And, of course, this colour scheme was the one adorning Roland Ratzenberger’s car on that tragic weekend in 1994.

But it’s clearly a fondly-remembered livery for all that, perhaps because purple is so rarely seen on a car. It paired smartly with the black, and it was impressive enough that the lowly team had managed to get sponsorship from MTV at pretty much the peak of the channel’s brand prevalence.

The 1995 car was toned down by comparison, with additional sponsorship by way of the drivers they’d signed. It was a shame to see it disappear off the grid so quickly, and we’ve never had a predominantly purple car since.

16. Leyton House / March (1988-92) – 470 points

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The only livery in our list that technically appeared on two different teams’ cars is this distinctive and classic colour scheme from the turn of the 1990s. The team was still March when the mysterious Japanese company Leyton House came in as title sponsor in 1988, decking the car out in a distinctive shade of light blue.

But the livery really came alive in 1989, with the addition of green BP sponsorship. It became so indelibly associated with the team that Leyton House actually took over ownership and naming rights for 1990, but when they disappeared at the end of 1991, March ran their final season in the sport with a car that shared the original blue colour, but little else of the original livery’s exciting verve.

Something about the huge LEYTON HOUSE lettering has contributed to making this a design classic that still looks great on retro merchandise.

15. Benson & Hedges Jordan (1997) – 526 points

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The first time you’ll see a Jordan in this list – but not the last. Some of the yellow Benson & Hedges designs have been counted together in the voting, but the 1997 car – with its distinctive snake design – stands alone.

The switch to a bright yellow followed the failed experiments of 1996 with mustard and gold – and made an immediate impact, giving the Jordan team a playful identity that they exploited to huge commercial effect throughout the 1997 season. It’s perhaps best remembered now for the inventive “Bitten & Hisses” workaround for non-tobacco races – but even aside from that, it’s a bold and memorable design that uses its black and red secondary colours superbly.

14. Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro (1997-2006) – 609 points

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We had a bit of a job figuring out where to separate Ferraris in the list – and while you could make a case for simply lumping all the votes together, we drew a line from the introduction of Marlboro as title sponsor in 1997, to the switch to a darker red from 2007. As a result, with totalled votes, the “Schumacher era” car is the only one that made it into our list.

The lighter shade of red was controversial when it replaced the classic “rosso corsa”, but it came to be associated with the most successful period in Ferrari’s history – which is undoubtedly why it’s now remembered so fondly. In the early years it was a bit of a hodge-podge of logos on a plain red, but it gained something in 2002 when Vodafone arrived on the sidepod and the larger Marlboro chevron spread across the engine cover – turning into a sleek and stylish red and white design.

13. Scuderia Toro Rosso (2017-2019) – 695 points

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The most recent entry on our list, and easily the most popular livery of the last decade. Toro Rosso turned everyone’s heads when they unleashed this on to the grid in 2017, and it spent three happy seasons as the best-looking thing in F1 by a comfortable margin. A pure, three-colour design – blue, with red trim, and silver logos – that glittered and shined with every single part working in harmony with the others.

It didn’t even outstay its welcome, either – we were sorry to see it go at the end of 2019 while also applauding the team for not just resting on their laurels and wheeling it out for five or six years unchanged. And can we really complain when it was replaced by the 2020 AlphaTauri design?

(AlphaTauri, incidentally, made it to a remarkable 30th place in the voting despite not having turned a wheel in anger yet. Watch out for it if we ever do one of these again…)

12. Vodafone McLaren Mercedes (2007-13) – 779 points

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Speaking of cars that spent five or six years unchanged… the chrome McLaren was certainly a striking and bold new thing when it debuted in 2006, but it really took on its iconic look when it was combined with bright Vodafone red for 2007 onwards. Undoubtedly, a lot of the affection people have for this livery must lie in the fact that it was the one Lewis Hamilton made his debut – and then won his first title – in. But surely we can all agree that by the time of its last season in 2013, it was getting way past time for a change.

Nevertheless, considering it was the successor to not one, but two absolutely iconic McLaren liveries, it’s pretty impressive that this one managed to stand out as well as it did too.

11. Mild Seven Renault (2002-06) – 810 points

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While none of the Benettons that bore Mild Seven sponsorship made it into the top 20, here’s a storming result for the car that followed them. When Renault took over the team from 2002 onwards, the combination of their yellow with the two-tone blue initially felt like a bit of an awkward cut-and-shut.

But in the years that followed, the design was refined – gaining more swooping lines, a more modern Mild Seven logo, and an iconic presence that was no doubt helped by Fernando Alonso’s back-to-back world title wins.

Now, the less said about what Renault did with the car following the end of tobacco sponsorship in 2007, the better…

10. HSBC Jaguar (2000-04) – 894 points

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As soon as Jaguar took over the Stewart team, we knew the car was going to be green. We didn’t know quite how beautiful it would be, though. The 2000 launch car was an immediate home run, and wasn’t even compromised by the red and white HSBC sponsorship – in fact, they complemented it perfectly.

The same was true of the increased Beck’s logo on the barge boards and monocoque for 2001 and 2002 – in fact, it fits the car so well it’s easy to forget they just had a plain logotype in 2000. The effect of the livery was somewhat countered in 2003 when the blue logos of AT&T just didn’t work – but it got a welcome refresh in 2004 with a more swooping design, deeper green and simplified HSBC sidepod logo.

9. Canon Williams (1985-93) – 944 points

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Williams seemed to hit on this colour combination almost by accident – the white Canon sidepods, blue main body and yellow engine cover all seemed to grow together organically over the course of the 1980s, rather than being a specific identity that was set out at the start. Yet despite being an unlikely combination they did work well together, giving the team a distinct identity throughout its rise to the top of the sport.

The most iconic version is undoubtedly the one driven by Nigel Mansell in 1991 and 1992 – with new sponsor Camel fitting so perfectly in the yellow section it’s amazing that colour had been in place for six whole seasons before the sponsor came in. Of course, our favourite version is the 1993 vintage, with its additional Sega sponsorship…

8. Brawn GP (2009) – 963 points

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An absolutely remarkable performance in the poll for a livery that was a last-minute, thrown-together job, spent the whole season feeling like it was going to be replaced by a “real” livery, and kept having different main sponsor logos added on a race-by-race basis.

But when it comes to iconic single-season liveries, this one’s incredibly hard to beat. It’s partly because of the bolt-from-the-blue that was Jenson Button’s title win and the Brawn team’s remarkable performance. But it’s also because it’s a colour combination that we’d never seen before and have never seen since – almost entirely white, just with a trim of black and full-on highlighter yellow. And it may have been a quick job, but there’s good design here – from the nose stripes (which Mercedes actually kept for their first season after taking over) to whoever had the bright idea to paint the hubcap covers.

We didn’t break the livery down into individual versions for the voting, so we don’t know which particular version you liked best. For our money, it looked best at Singapore – with Virgin Media and Canon logos, but before the ugly orange-yellow front wings had come in.

7. West McLaren Mercedes (1997-2005) – 1144 points

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McLaren had one of the most famous liveries in F1 history for the entirety of the 1980s and a good chunk of the 1990s. Whatever they replaced it with, once the Marlboro deal concluded at the end of 1996, was going to have to be pretty special. And after a testing-based flirtation with papaya orange, “pretty special” turned out to be an understatement.

The change in colour scheme to silver was a statement of intent regarding the team’s engine linkup with Mercedes – and was the first livery of the modern era to call back to the classic “Silver Arrows” look. With a black trim and flashes of red, this was a striking new identity – but one that defined the team during their new era of success.

It’s another livery that slightly lost its impact as the cars changed shape from the chassis that it was originally designed for – but for those first three, Mika Hakkinen-led years, it was easily the best thing on a generally very good-looking grid.

6. Benson & Hedges Jordan (1998-99) – 1157 points

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It’s a first top ten entry for Jordan, whose “Buzzin Hornets” design makes it all the way up to sixth place by way of combining the votes for both the 1998 and 1999 versions. Yes, there were some changes between seasons – most notably the removal of colour sections from the airbox and nose – but fundamentally it was the same basic livery and colour scheme, and we’ve drawn a line after ’97 due to the switch from the snake, and before 2000 where the shade of yellow became much brighter.

Of the two, we slightly prefer the cleaner ’99 variant, particularly with its large race numbers on the nose – although the gold headrest stands out a bit jarringly. However, it’s the ’98 version that lives longest in the memory, particularly thanks to the team’s epic 1-2 victory at Spa. In fact, if the votes had been split, the ’98 car would have been the highest-ranking B&H livery, beating even the ’97 snake.

5. Orange Arrows (2000-02) – 1177 points

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Arrows had already had some pretty great liveries through the Tom Walkinshaw era, but they upped the bar hugely with a spectacularly good sponsorship deal in 2000. Signing up with telecoms giant Orange, they enabled the car to be called both the “Orange Arrows” and the “orange Arrows”, with a gorgeous orange-and-black livery that somehow managed to look great even though it was bedecked in various other apparently small-fry sponsor logos.

It never looked better than on that brilliantly neat-and-tidy 2000 car – for 2001, the proportions shifted a bit and the unwelcome addition of Red Bull’s colours to the engine cover threw things off a bit. And in 2002, the solid orange nose didn’t have the verve of the previous striped version. In the years that followed, before their merger with T-Mobile to become EE, it’s a surprise Orange never returned to the grid given the reception they got as a sponsor – but at least the colour finally made a comeback with McLaren.

4. Marlboro McLaren (1981-96) – 1422 points

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McLaren first had the logos and colour scheme of Marlboro on their car as far back as 1974 – but it was in 1981 that the cars first took on the livery that would become famous, with an all-over white car adorned with two large chevrons, one at the rear and one across the nose.

It would go through tweaks here and there in the years that followed – but effectively, they ran with the same livery for the next decade-and-a-half. And as a period that included the epic battles between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, that meant the Marlboro livery became one of the most enduringly iconic in the history of the sport.

There’s no denying it looks better on some cars than others, although it’s hard to quantify just why. If it’s got Senna in it, it automatically looks brilliant – whether that’s the airbox-free turbo-era monster, or the taller but more compact ’93 car that wowed Donington. It began to look a little tired in its final few years – a bit too much blank white space in ’94, and by ’96 it looked more like a Penske IndyCar than a classic McLaren. By the time it was gone, it felt like it had had its time – although there are many who would dearly love to see something like it make a return nowadays…

3. Rothmans Williams (1994-97) – 1422 points

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Remarkably, the third and fourth entries in our list scored exactly the same number of points – despite such a wide range of votes logged. But we’ve tie-broken it by putting the Williams ahead, due to racking up its points from only four seasons’ worth of cars, rather than the sixteen the McLaren had.

It’s actually a surprise just how popular this one was with voters – it’s an iconic car, sure, but we would have expected it to be in the lower reaches of the top 20. Rothmans had a long pedigree in motorsport sponsorship, but their time in F1 was surprisingly brief, due to being replaced by the Winfield brand in 1998 – indeed, you could be forgiven for thinking this Williams had been around for much longer, such was the impact it had.

Although the car is now indelibly associated with tragedy, the livery looked at its best on the more rounded shape of the 1994 Williams. The swooping gold and red trim lines give so much life to a design that could otherwise just be quite plain and simple blue and white. The cars became a little cluttered with logos in the seasons that followed, but they were generally always in complementary colours, at least until the ’97 car, which perhaps tried to modernise things a bit too far but lost the “classic” feel.

2. John Player Special Lotus (1972-86) – 1551 points

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The liveries that score highly on our lists do so for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they’re enduring, sometimes they’re associated with iconic drivers or performances, sometimes they bring a fresh and exciting colour to the grid, sometimes they have an unusual sponsor.

With the JPS Lotus, though, the answer is simple: it’s just cool.

It’s black, for starters. Painting your car black is such an obvious winner we’re surprised there isn’t at least one all-over black car on the grid every season (look at the reaction when even a lowly team like Arrows did it in 1998). But it’s also easy to ruin a black car with too many clashing logos (hello Andrea Moda, hello mid-2000s Minardi). The second thing the JPS car did was to use gold as its secondary colour -and its only secondary colour.

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Okay, they compromised a bit by adding the Union Flag later on, and there were occasional supplier logos that stood out – but for the most part, Lotus got buy-in from all their other sponsors to deploy their logos in the same gold as the JPS branding. And this meant the car always had a consistent look – it always looked like a JPS Lotus, and nothing else. This even endured after the team briefly lost the sponsor in the early 1980s – and in fact, the car arguably looked even better in its 1980s incarnation than it had done in the early ‘70s (but maybe that’s once again our view of Ayrton Senna talking).

The principles that make the JPS livery so good should be easy to follow – and yet so many teams have tried and failed to do something that lives up to it. Maybe that innate class, that inherent sense of cool, is harder to capture than you’d expect.

1. 7-Up Jordan (1991) – 2028 points

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We thought this was probably going to win. Even we’re surprised by how much, though.

Bearing in mind that everything else in the top five did so by racking up votes across multiple seasons, the fact that the top spot is taken by a single-season wonder, and by such a huge margin, is remarkable.

But it’s testament to just how good this livery is – and, we feel, a fitting tribute to its genius of a designer, Ian Hutchinson, who sadly passed away earlier this year.

Sure, some of the reason why it gets looked upon so fondly is its place in history: it’s the car that Michael Schumacher made his debut in, and with which the Jordan team raised eyebrows by arriving in the sport with a bang. It’s also an extremely aesthetically pleasing car shape even without the livery – undoubtedly one of the high points of 1990s-style car design.

But those factors alone wouldn’t be enough to put it so far at the top of this list. It’s more that everything about it, from the top down, makes the right decision. First off, green is simply the best colour for a racing car, and this is a type of green that glistens and glimmers. It’s stopped from just looking plain, though, by the (presumably Ford-inspired) blue sidepods, separated with a well-judged sliver of white, and the lighter emerald flashes.

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And having based the livery around the green, white and red of 7-Up – a fantastic and iconic piece of logo design that also only appeared in F1 for this singular season – the team somehow managed to find an array of sponsors that complemented it. FujiFilm’s white and red and TicTac’s green and white look born to go on the car, and everything else is picked out in plain white decals to avoid clashing.

The only time it didn’t quite work is when parent brand Pepsi took over the airbox for the Japanese Grand Prix – it’s not that adding more blue would necessarily have ruined the look, but the shape of the box felt awkward and not in keeping with the flowing lines of the rest of the car.

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It’s hard to say exactly what the Jordan 191 does that countless other great-but-not-the-best liveries haven’t also; there are lots of great green F1 cars, lots that have iconic logos, lots that use complementary decal colours, lots that are associated with memorable seasons or individual performances. Maybe it’s that it does all those things together. Maybe it’s that we only got that one glorious season with it, so we never had a chance to get bored. Maybe its mythical and apparently unshakeable status as “the greatest livery ever” has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We don’t know.

All we know is that it is the greatest livery ever. We think so. You think so. There have probably been countless words written on F1 Colours in the past thirteen years that loyal readers have furiously disagreed with – but on this, it seems, we’re all united.


2 Comments

    diocunha

    June 29, 2020 at 2:22 pm
    Reply

    Once again, great job and as a reward, Mercedes just gave you a brand new black car! 🙂

    Ed Greenhalgh

    July 3, 2020 at 2:32 pm
    Reply

    Interesting list! Surprised not to see more Benettons or yellow Renaults

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