Special F1 liveries, everyone’s got an opinion on them and 2023 has treated us to some of the best, and some of the worst, designs.
To make things fair, this list comprises only of designs that actually made it to the circuit, so while Alfa’s collaboration with German artist BOOGIE produced a unique design, it is ineligible for this ranking.
By our count, there were 19 different liveries over the course of 2023 but if the changes were only subtle, they have been grouped together. Also as a disclaimer, some may have slipped the radar but we think we’ve got them all (it’s been a long season.) Other than that, the rules are pretty clear so here are the best and worst special liveries of the 2023 F1 season.
15.) McLaren’s Jack Daniels advert – Las Vegas Grand Prix
McLaren have become known as the livery kings of late and the Woking outfit have produced some stunning designs in 2023.
This wasn’t one of them. Essentially a big advert for Jack Daniels for the Las Vegas Grand Prix, it is far below all of the other offerings made by the team in the year.
14.) Alpine’s camouflage car – Las Vegas Grand Prix
For the Las Vegas Grand Prix, Alpine teamed up with clothing brand Kappa for a camouflage design of the A523 which makes sense because it is almost impossible to see any difference.
Minimal chances to the paintwork mean it is a deserved second to last place for this contender.
13.) Alfa’s neon livery – Belgian Grand Prix
A minimalist design for this livery which saw some splashes of green mixed into the paintwork.
It is by no means a bad design but compared to Alfa’s other entries, it is not one of their finest.
12.) Red Bull’s fan-led design – Miami, United States and Las Vegas Grand Prix
Red Bull and unique liveries are not two things that are mixed all too often. The beautiful Honda inspired livery for the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix remains an outlier in an otherwise uneventful affair in terms of the Red Bull design.
With the base car looking near identical from a livery perspective to last year’s, there have been some variations for the three American races this year.
Red Bull opened a competition for their fans to design a livery but potential entrants were limited somewhat as the design would feature solely on the sidepods and wings, leaving the engine cover in the typical red and yellow of the team’s logo.
The three results were subtle changes, hinting at the origins of the circuit they were racing at but compared to the others on this list, they are not going to rank too highly.
11.) Williams’ rear liveries – British, United States and Las Vegas Grand Prix
Aside from their Gulf livery, Williams have adopted an approach of changing just the rear portion of the car for a number of races this season.
Mainly it has been for the US outings with an American flag plastered over the back of the car in Austin before a rather tacky design in Vegas.
But the pick of the bunch is the Union flag on the back of their Silverstone runner to mark their 800th GP as a team.
10.) Alfa Romeo’s blackout design for Sin City – Las Vegas Grand Prix
Alfa were one of a number of teams with a special livery for Vegas and up close, the casino vibe was a cool design.
The only issue was at 200mph it was hard to make out that design giving the car instead a completely black look and making it very hard to differentiate from the Mercedes.
9.) McLaren’s last roll of the dice – Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Designed by Saudi Arabian artist Nujood Al-Otaibi, the McLaren livery for the Abu Dhabi race gives off an almost beach vibe.
It looks nice to be fair but is very much middle of the road.
8=) ‘Stealth mode’ McLaren – Singapore and Japanese Grand Prix
For a portion of the Asian races, McLaren unveiled a stripped down version of their usual runner with significant portions of black and orange.
The team said it was done to continue the year-long celebration of its beginning but it was by far the worst of the three special liveries (not including the Vegas attempt) by McLaren in 2023.
8=) AlphaTauri end the season in style – Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
A cool offering from AlphaTauri with a design that almost looks like it is going through a wind tunnel. They unveiled it for the race in Vegas and liked it so much that they kept for the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
Either that or they couldn’t be bothered to take it off for the final race.
7.) Alpine’s pink livery – Bahrain and Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
The pink livery has become a recurring theme for whichever team has BWT as their sponsor and somewhat unusually for a special livery, Alpine opened the season in this design.
In fairness to the French team, it is a nice change from the regular design and sure was easy to spot as it went hurtling past at 200mph.
6.) McLaren’s chrome comeback – British Grand Prix
Great idea, poor execution is perhaps the best way to describe McLaren’s chrome comeback. The team spent the day building up to the unveiling and as a result, expectation was high for the return to an era of McLaren much loved by fans, including Lando Norris himself.
But the final product was not what those fans had been wanting. With a lot of black and orange still on display, it was far removed from the all chrome design that came to symbolise the Lewis Hamilton era of McLaren.
5.) The yellow returns to the Ferrari – Italian Grand Prix
Walking the fine line between cool livery and McDonald’s, Ferrari fell on the right side with this design for their home race. It is easy to think of red as the colour of Ferrari but yellow is just as important (I mean, look at their badge) and so it was good to see a return to that for the race in Monza.
The livery brought some good luck too with Carlos Sainz finishing on the podium.
4.) Williams embrace Gulf sponsorship – Singapore, Japanese and Qatar Grand Prix
Given the iconic two tone colour scheme of their sponsorship, it is hard to go wrong with a Gulf livery.
There was plenty of tongue when it was announced Gulf were leaving McLaren and instead joining Williams for 2023 and while there was disappointment that their standard car did not have more of that famous orange and light blue, fans were at least treated to it at three races.
Like Red Bull, Williams took a lead from their fans and gave them a number of choices to vote with the eventual winner being the ‘Bolder than Bold’ design.
Hopefully the positive reaction it received from fans is enough to convince Williams to go with the design full time when it comes to the FW46.
3.) Ferrari’s nod to the past in F1’s brave new world – Las Vegas Grand Prix
There is something so simple yet so aesthetically pleasing about Ferrari’s Las Vegas livery.
With a nod to Ferrari’s look from the 70s, the red and white colour scheme just works. While the Monza yellow and red was also a good combo, something about the white and red gives a clean and refined style – reminding you that this is Ferrari after all.
2.) Alfa Romeo’s Monza masterpiece – Italian Grand Prix
Alfa can consider themselves very hard done by not to be top of this list because their Monza livery is a beauty.
Even before special liveries, the Alfa car was one of the best looking on the grid and it was only improved with this stunning design of all black save for the Italian flag painted across the engine cover and nose.
It was done in tribute to Alfa Romeo as the Italian car company spent their last year as Sauber’s title sponsor and it took something very special to deny this top spot.
1.) McLaren celebrate their Triple Crown heritage – Monaco Grand Prix
If the chrome livery disappointed, the Triple Crown most certainly did not. Since Zak Brown was installed, McLaren have embraced their racing heritage more than any other team on the grid.
Competing in multiple series, McLaren are happy to celebrate their achievements away from F1 and the pinnacle of that came with their Triple Crown livery used in the Monaco Grand Prix.
While the white and papaya make it a stunning car to look at, it scores highly due to the nod to history weaved amongst its design. To celebrate the team’s Triple Crown achievement, there are parts of each of the three cars that won the Indy 500, 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Monaco GP.
The F1 portion comes in the middle with Alain Prost’s Mp4/2 remembered for its 1984 Monaco win. The papaya at the rear is from McLaren’s first Indy 500 win in 1972 while the black at the front is from the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans entry.
It was also a nice touch that McLaren’s IndyCar team ran dedicated liveries during the same weekend.
While other liveries can seem like a last minute thing, the Triple Crown was a genuine piece of great design with plenty of thought gone into it.