Top 10: The best Formula 1 cars of all-time

Date published: February 12 2018

With the 2018 Formula 1 season soon upon us, it’s time to take a look back at some of the best cars in the history of the sport.

From the one-hit wonders to the team dynasties that have lasted years, there have been some fantastic vehicles that have graced the competition over the years. In chronological order, here are ten of the best:

McLaren MP4/2 (1984-86)

The MP4/2, designed by McLaren, is the only car on this list to have raced for more than a single season. The chassis won the Drivers’ Championship every year from 1984 to 1986. Niki Lauda would win the title in 1984, with Alain Prost claiming his first two championships in 1985 and 1986.

The car was one of the few cars on the grid with carbon brakes, giving it an advantage in longer races. It also had a larger fuel tank than most of its rivals, which helped the McLaren team break the record for most wins in a season in 1984. Between Lauda and Prost, they won 12 races, with Lauda beating the Frenchman to the title by just half a point, the closest Championship in F1 history.

The car was updated the year after, with the MP4/2B focusing on race pace, seeing Prost and Lauda qualify in the pack at most races, before flying through the field on a Sunday. The suspension was redesigned to allow the change from Michelin to Goodyear tyres, with Prost going on to win his first title comfortably.

The MP4/2C had no major changes from the 1985 car, just some minor tweaks to the aerodynamics of the chassis.

Despite the engine being past its best days (the TAG Porsche V6, which had been in the car for the three-year stint), Prost was able to take the World Championship from under the Williams’ team’s nose.

The Frenchman, who had been partnered by Keke Rosberg in 1986, became the first driver to win back-to-back titles since Jack Brabham in 1959-60. The chassis remains the most successful in F1 history, winning 22 Grands Prix and scoring 327.5 points in its three years in the Championship. 

McLaren MP4/4 (1988)

After the dominance of Prost and Lauda in the mid 1980’s, a certain Brazilian joined McLaren in 1988, and would go on to win the Drivers’ title in his first year with the team. The car won 15 of the 16 races that year, with Ayrton Senna winning eight to Prost’s seven. McLaren racked up 199 points in the Constructors’ Championship, more than triple the next best team. To this day, it remains the most dominant season there has ever been in Formula 1.

 McLaren MP4/6 (1991)

In 1991, Senna won back-to-back World Championships following on from his title win the previous year. The car won the first four races of the season, in the United States, Brazil, San Marino and Monaco, before fighting off the challenge of the Williams in mid-season. Senna clinched the title in the penultimate race in Japan, and would go down in history as the last car to win a championship using a manual transmission, or a V12 engine.

Benetton B195 (1995)

Michael Schumacher won the second of his record seven titles in the Benetton B195. The car won 11 of the 17 races in the 1995 championship as the German fought off Damon Hill to clinch the title. It was one of the first of its type to look like the modern day cars. The B195 was only around for a single year, but Schumacher, along with Johnny Herbert, dominated on track that season.

Ferrari F2001 (2001)

Schumacher’s fourth title came with the Ferrari F2001, and the Italian team dominated like they did for all of the early 2000s. He won nine of the twenty races in 2001, proving to be too fast for the McLaren and Williams counterparts. The ’01 car had to be built with rule changes in mind, as traction control and launch control systems were both back in action. The F2001 car would go on to be driven by Schumacher in the first two races of the 2002 season, winning one and finishing third in the other.

 Ferrari F2002 (2002)

After the domination of the F2001, the F2002 went a step further, taking Michael Schumacher to the World title quicker than any other season in F1 history. The German won his fifth title with six races to spare, and won the championship by a then-record 67 points.

The team also scored the same amount of points in the Constructors’ Championship as all the other teams combined. The F2002 only failed to win a single that season, with Schumacher finishing second in Monaco – his P3 in Malaysia was behind the wheel of the F2001. Of its 15 races in 2002, the car won 14, before going on to win one of the first four races it took part in during the 2003 season, as the F2002B.

Brawn BGP 001 (2009)

The Brawn BGP 001 can truly be classed as a one-hit wonder; this was the only car ever made under the guise of Brawn GP. The rebrand came after Honda left the sport at the end of the 2008 season, and Ross Brawn faced major issues as they tried to fit the Mercedes power unit in the back of it.

Six inches were removed from the back end of the vehicle, but because of the newly designed double diffuser, the car had more downforce than any of its rivals. Despite official complaints from other teams, Jenson Button would go on to win the World Championship, after winning six of the opening seven races of the 2009 season. He and Rubens Barrichello finished 1-2 on the car’s debut, the first time that had happened since 1954.

Red Bull RB7 (2011)

The RB7 took Sebastian Vettel to his second consecutive Drivers’ Championship, becoming the youngest double champ in F1 history. The car won 12 of the 19 races that season, and claimed all bar one pole position during the campaign. Between Vettel and Mark Webber, the 19 races saw 27 podium finishes for Red Bull.

The 2011 season was also the first to see the introduction of the Drag Reduction System, meaning Red Bull had to bring in the “rear wing flap” while designing the car as well. The team finished with 650 points in the teams’ standings, more than 150 ahead of McLaren, while Vettel was a record 122 points clear in the Drivers’ Championship.

Red Bull RB9 (2013)

Two years later, and Sebastian Vettel won his fourth straight title, this time in the RB9. In 2011, the Red Bull was dominant, but in 2013, it was on another level. At the halfway stage of the season, Vettel was fighting with Fernando Alonso for the title, but the German won the final nine races of the season, a Formula 1 record.

Another record he broke was his own points deficit from 2011. Alonso finished 155 points behind Vettel, while the Red Bull team won the Constructors’ crown by 236 points.

Mercedes F1 W07 Hybrid (2016)

The 2016 Mercedes entry is, statistically, the second-most dominant car in the history of the sport, only behind the McLaren MP4/4, mentioned above. The W07 Hybrid was the first Mercedes car to utilise the fully integrated hybrid power units, a rule brought in for the 2016 season.

The title fight would be between the two Mercedes team-mates, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. The German won his first championship, finishing five points ahead of Hamilton. The dominance showed in the Constructors’ with Mercedes finishing 297 points clear of Red Bull.

In 2016, the W07 Hybrid won 19 of the 21 races, and finished on the podium 33 times.

By Matt Coles

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