The Top 25 F1 Liveries of All Time : #4

Those of you who predicted this one for the top five – give yourselves a pat on the back…


At the end of 1996, McLaren’s famous and long-running deal with Marlboro finally expired, with the tobacco brand moving to Ferrari as primary sponsors. Few predicted that the team would come up with a replacement livery that would be in any way as iconic or memorable – but they hadn’t banked on new sponsors West or the growing influence of Mercedes-Benz on the team they would come to part-own. Initially, the racing press were teased with testing images of an orange livery reminiscent of Bruce McLaren’s original cars of the 1960s. But this turned out to be a deceptive gambit – and when the new car was unveiled at its early 1997 launch, it was resplendent in a shimmering shade of silver, decked out in black and red trim.

Calling to mind the famous Mercedes cars of the 1950s – and allowing the nickname “Silver Arrows” to be associated with the marque all over again – it was an absolute triumph of design, and the defining F1 car of the late ‘90s. The way that “silver” so suddenly became the team’s visual identity – spreading across all aspects from their team headquarters outwards – you could have been forgiven for thinking they’d always painted their cars that colour. That first 1997 car wasn’t the best-looking of the cars that would carry the livery, however – Adrian Newey’s influence had yet to be fully felt, and so there remained something of the bulkiness of the ’96 car, even though they’d finally begun to win races once more.

The 1998 car, however – in which Mika Hakkinen won his first world title – was a thing of absolute beauty. Even if you were pro-Ferrari/Schumacher at the time (as I myself was), you couldn’t help but admire its sleek, curved lines and the class it exuded in motion – it looked just as good on TV as it did in photos. The tone of silver – which actually varied over different parts of the car – was perfectly judged, with just a hint of reflectivity but retaining the workmanlike feel of Ron Dennis’ operation.

So successful was the livery that it lasted for almost a decade with only minor changes – concessions to sponsorship deals, and adjusting the layout of the black sections to fit the lines of each year’s machine – and while we’d all become rather used to it by the time it was retired at the end of 2005, we found ourselves yearning for it after the introduction of the current “chrome” design the following year, which plunged into the overt tackiness that the West design had always managed to avoid.

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    February 13, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    It’s one of those ones that just look fast as well – a classic! I also always liked the little red flashes on top of the side pods that I think I remember I heard somewhere were shaped like a kiwi in tribute to Bruce. Did anyone else hear that?


    February 14, 2008 at 6:03 am

    My absolute favourite livery of all time – I would have put it at #1. Being a McLaren fan helps, I suppose. Without a doubt the sleekest and ‘fastest’ looking F1 car that I can ever recall seeing… it looked like it was hurtling along, even standing still. Like a silver arrow.

    I also loved the way “West” was replaced with “Mika”/”David”/”Kimi” at the non-tobacco races. Sheer class.


    February 14, 2008 at 9:12 am

    Now this one is really fabulous. No matter what you can say, it has got “fastest car” written all over it. What a better way to return to the victory path than having an awesome livery to mark the turn. Just great.


    February 14, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    Excellent livery – very much defined the new mclaren mercedes package. Few cars have worked so well with the livery and the car lines.

    Gareth, the red flashes on top of the sidepods were the rounded version of the flash that was used in the mclaren logo during the marlboro days. I hadn’t heard about the kiwi thing, that sounds much better!


    February 15, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    Good. One nagging point, though: the “black” isn’t actually black. It’s very dark grey. Otherwise, great post.


    March 9, 2008 at 7:35 pm

    Very nice livery, but my personal all-time favorite livery
    is the Rothmans colors (Blue, white, red, gold).

    A very close second, for me, is the John Player’s (black with gold stripes).

    Strange, how the cigarette companies have such great color schemes. Personally I hate cigarettes and all the misery they create.


    August 4, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    Totally agree- the MP4/13 was amazing on the telly- it had a commanding presence right out the box from Australia onwards. I saw the ’14 testing at Dalton Barracks the following year and the proportions weren’t as good. I actually like the new chrome look however, but this will tire quicker than the classy West livery.


    November 4, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    The car (or the livery?!) that made me fall in love with F1 and McLaren… Truly a Classic that deserves applause.

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