Greatest Formula One Cars of All Time

Best Formula One (F1) cars of all time

December 24, 2023

Whenever we look at some of Formula One’s most dominant eras, along with the drivers who led their teams to glory, we see that they were mostly assisted by supreme machinery.

Success in the sport ultimately depends to a great extent upon the performance and development of the car rather than the talent and performance of the drivers. In this article, we look at a few of the most dominant cars in the history of the sport.

Also read: F1 Drivers with the most Grand Slams

1. Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid

Season: 2016
Designers: Paddy Lowe, Aldo Costa, Geoff Willis, Mark Ellis, John Owen and Mike Elliott
Drivers: Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton
Wins: 19

Mercedes’ dominance in the turbo-hybrid era has been untouched, extraordinary and unparalleled. Such is their dominance over the last seven seasons that it even eclipses the dominance Ferrari had in the early 2000s. While they boasted of champion drivers like Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas and Nico Rosberg, a large part of their success is due to the superior machinery the Brackley based team have had.

One of those supreme machinery which the German team developed, was the Mercedes W07 Hybrid for the 2016 Formula One Championship season. Statistically speaking, with 19 wins out of 21 races, the W07 ranks second in the all time list with a win percentage of 90.47%, only second the 1988 McLaren MP4/4, which had a record of 93.75%. Winning a whopping nineteen of the season’s twenty-one races, Mercedes could’ve well won all the races had their drivers not collided in Spain, handing Max Verstappen the victory and an engine issue saw Lewis Hamilton retire from the lead that saw Red Bull take their second victory of the season via Daniel Ricciardo in Malaysia.

Mercedes’ dominance in the engine department has been a key reason for their success. Their  understanding of the 1.6-litre V6 regulations and the PU106C engine along with a superior chassis helped the W07 dominate the entire field, which saw them take 33 podiums, 20 poles and a record-breaking 765 Championship points—till date, the most in a season—showcasing the development the team have made since re-entering the sport in 2010.

Although the Brackley-based team have enjoyed considerable success since, they haven’t quite been able to replicate the dominance of the W07.

2. Red Bull RB9

Season: 2013
Adrian Newey, Rob Marshall, Peter Prodromou
Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber

If your nearest championship rival finishes a distant 150+ points clear off you, you know you’ve had a dominating season.

When you put together a master engineer like Adrian Newey with the fierce talent like Sebastian Vettel, success is bound to be nearby. Newey, who has been involved in designing and developing some of F1’s most successful cars, joined Red Bull in 2006. With Red Bull’s meteoric rise in the 2010s, Newey became the only F1 designer to have won the Constructors’ Championship with three different F1 teams (Williams, McLaren and Red Bull). Even though, coming into 2013, Red Bull were the favourites to win, with the RB9, the team decimated the field. Newey had stated that the RB9 wouldn’t be quick right off the block, with its predecessor the RB8 getting more attention and development into the previous season which had stalled the development of the RB9 just a bit. When the car did debut at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix, the performance and pace was there for everyone to see. Even though the Red Bull finished third that day, with Raikkonen taking a surprise victory, the grid knew that the RB9 would be the car to beat that season.

With an astounding 13 victories and 596 points in the Constructors’ Championship, Red Bull sealed the fourth consecutive double title. Vettel who won his fourth title with the team, aptly named his car ‘Hungry Heidi’ and his hunger was evident on the track. Taking all 13 victories for the Austrian team, Vettel won a record-breaking nine consecutive Grands Prix, a record that is untouched till date.

The RB9 was Red Bull’s most successful machinery until the 2022 season where the RB18 bettered the performance of the RB9, winning an incredible 17 races in a single season. 

3. Scuderia Ferrari F2002

Seasons: 2002/03
Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne, Aldo Costa, Marco Fainello and Nikolas Tombazis
Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello

Powered by a 3 litre V10 engine, the F2002 was a screaming beast. It is surprising that the car wasn’t put on track until the third race of the 2002 season, but once it got on the track, the F2002 won a mind-boggling 14 of the remaining 15 races that season. The car’s innovative clutchless gearbox design led to its delayed debut but handing a car like that to arguably the greatest driver of all time, Schumacher took ten of the 14 victories that season (powered by the F2002) whilst Rubens Barrichello contributed well with an additional four wins.

Schumacher remarkably never finished the season outside P2 with the F2002 under him and the Scuderia comfortably wrapped up the constructors’ title. Delayed development of its successor saw the F2002 start the 2003 season for Ferrari as the F2002B and helped Schumacher win the final Grand Prix it competed in at San Marino.

4. McLaren MP4/4

Season: 1988
Gordon Murray, Steve Nichols, Neil Oatley, Gordon Kimball, Peter Weismann and Tim Wright
Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost

If you think of the quintessential McLaren car, the 1988 MP4/4 probably is the one that comes to your mind. Sporting the iconic red and white  Marlboro livery and powered by a 1.5 litre turbocharged Honda V6 engine, quite simply put – the MP4/4 was one of, if not the greatest cars of all time.

With drivers like Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna behind the wheel, it did the team no harm, as it took 15 of the 16 victories of 1988. With the best engine on the grid, McLaren’s team built a superior chassis that was in a league of its own. Such was the dominance of the MP4/4, that it had more than three times the points of its closest competitor in the constructors’ championship.

With 15 victories, 15 poles from the 16 races in the season, the season was a walkover for the team. A prime example of this was probably in San Marino where the McLaren’s qualified almost more than 3 seconds ahead of their rivals.

5. Lotus 72

Seasons: 1970 – 1975
Colin Chapman, Maurice Philippe and Tony Rudd
Jochen Rindt, John Miles, Ronnie Peterson, Jacky Ickx and Emerson Fittipaldi

The Lotus 72, powered by a Ford V8 engine won an incredible 20 races over the span of 6 seasons, including 3 constructors’ championships and 2 drivers’ titles. The car was updated over the span of the six seasons from the standard 72 to the 72F and was finally replaced by the Lotus 77 in 1976.

The Lotus 72 was the first of the wedge shaped cars, making a departure from the cigar style Formula One cars that preceded it. The 72 didn’t have the greatest start to the season, when it debuted mid-way of the 1970 season and retired from its first race in Spain. But a run of success followed with Jochen Rindt taking four wins in a row. Rindt unfortunately succumbed to his injuries following his fatal crash in Monza but the 72 had done enough to earn Rindt a posthumous drivers’ title. Emerson Fittipaldi who replaced Rindt took the car’s fifth victory in the penultimate race of the season at the United States Grand Prix. Although the following season saw the 72 upgraded to the 72C and eventually 72D, the season saw only a couple of podium finishes as the best result for the Lotus team.

1972 saw the Lotus 72D dominate the field, with Fittipaldi taking five wins and the title as well. The next season Ronnie Peterson managed four wins and Fittipaldi, three, to secure a third constructors’ position for Lotus. By 1974, the Lotus had upgraded to the 72E and saw Peterson take a further three victories but couldn’t compete for the drivers’ or constructors’ with reliability hampering the team’s progress. 1975 was the final season the 72 was a part of the Formula One season and with development focused on the Lotus 77 for 1976, the 72F struggled.

Although it might not have as many wins or championship titles as the other great cars of the sport, the fact that the Lotus 72 had such longevity and success sets it apart as one of the greatest cars to have raced in the sport.

6. Red Bull RB18

Season: 2022
Adrian Newey, Pierre Waché, Rob Marshall, Dan Fallows, Ben Waterhouse
Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez

The 2022 season was a special one. The season introduced new regulations, which was eagerly awaited by the entire grid after the less-than-exciting turbo-hybrid era, which was largely criticised for the lack of wheel-to-wheel racing. The new season kicked off with extreme excitement and it delivered on track. 

Coming off the back of a thrilling championship battle with Mercedes, Red Bull knew they were ready to fight for the crown and take down the German champions who had reigned for almost a decade. The new regulations, though, threw up a new contender and it wasn’t Mercedes who were pushing Red Bull to the limit but it was Ferrari. Ferrari started the season strongly as the RB18 struggled with reliability issues in the opening half of the season that saw a double DNF for reigning champion Max Verstappen in two of the opening three races. After an early setback, even though the Ferrari was one of the fastest cars of the grid, the RB18 didn’t look back.

Red Bull, mainly off the back of Verstappen mounted an incredible comeback after their early season woes and Max Verstappen won an incredible 15 out of the 22 races of the season. Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Pérez won two which took Red Bull’s tally to a total of 17 wins in the season, which made it their most successful season till date. With 17 wins under their belt, Red Bull not only won the Drivers’ Championship through Verstappen but also won their first ever Constructors’ Championship since 2013. 

7. Red Bull RB19

Season: 2023
Designers: Adrian Newey, Pierre Waché, Rob Marshall, Ben Waterhouse Paul Monaghan, Jerome Lafrage, Edward Aveling, Enrico Balbo and Ben Hodgkinson
Drivers: Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez
Wins: 21

If you thought the 2022 season was a dominant season from Red Bull, you could be forgiven for being mistaken, as Red Bull had something else planned for the following season.

The 2023 Formula One season, till date, has been Red Bull’s most successful and dominant season — the most dominant season from a Formula One team ever, in fact. Right from winter testing, everyone knew the RB19 would be the fastest car on the grid, and once the season got underway in Bahrain, the signs were ominous for the rest of the grid. Red Bull went on a 15-race win streak—Max Verstappen alone went on a ten-win race streak—up until the Singapore GP; if there was one weakness to the RB19, it was the street circuits.

Apart from the Singapore blip, Red Bull remained on the top step of the podium in every other race of the season, winning an incredible 21 races out of the 22 to take home their sixth Constructors’ Championship, as Verstappen won his third Drivers’ Championship.

The RB19, with a win percentage of 95.45%, will go down in F1 history as one of the strongest cars of all time, if not the strongest.

Aditya Chaudhuri

Hailing from the City of Joy, the things that bring me joy are cricket, a good non-tilt CS:GO session, F1 and movies.

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