Top 10: The Most Beautiful Formula One Liveries of the 21st Century

Much is said of the iconic liveries from F1's first half century, but the past two decades have seen some modern classics

The other day I was thinking about the one-off white livery Red Bull ran for the Turkish Grand Prix this season. Although I liked it initially, with hindsight, I’m not really a fan. It’s a bit of a hot take, I know, but it got me thinking… what are my favourite Formula One liveries?

Now, as we’re into the eighth decade of Formula One, the sport has seen more paint jobs than I’d care to try and count. Therefore, I thought it wise to place some restrictions on the criteria – my own little contribution to order in a chaotic world.

The restrictions are simple (there are only two). Firstly, the livery must be from the 21st Century; and second, it must be considered a permanent livery for at least a season, so no one-offs. On this occasion at least.

(You might have noticed that the headline image is of another one-off livery – McLaren’s Gulf special from the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix – but that is purely as an honourable mention. When I raised this subject of doing a top 10 list with some of the other writers here at FormulaNerds, they jumped to suggest the stunning number you see above.)

Within the list below, some of the liveries, or variants of, were raced for several seasons. In such cases, I’ve chosen the year which I think the car looked at its best. But anyway, and without further ado, my top 10 Formula One liveries of the 21st Century.

10 – Brawn BGP 001 (2009)

Brawn GBP 001

Jenson Button’s championship-winning car, and a phoenix from the embers of the Honda Racing F1 Team

Image Credit: Mark Thompson via Getty Images

It’s simple, but effective – almost like someone sat at a plain white canvas, using a yellow highlighter to try and decide where paint should go and thought: “You know what? That works.”

Popular in the FormulaNerds writing room, and for good reason: The florescent yellow flows beautifully from front to back and the black accent complements and contrasts in equal measure.

The Brawn BGP 001 is also the only car on this list from between 2009 and 2016. It’s not that the liveries were particularly bad (they weren’t particularly good either, mind) during this period, but more that the cars themselves were distinctly aesthetically unappealing.

9 – Renault R26 (2006)
Renault R26
Sky blue and yellow adorned the Renault works team from their return to the sport in 2002 until 2007, when ING Group replaced Mild Seven as their title sponsor

Image Credit: Mark Thompson via Getty Images

The combination of Renault yellow and Mild Seven blue is punctuated by navy to wonderful effect and the way the yellow covers the front of the car, before giving way to the predominant blue makes the car look balanced and nimble.

Fernando Alonso’s second title-winning car just beats out its predecessor, the R25, after Renault adopted a wider nose, and dropped the red tip from the livery.

It’s not the most aggressive livery for a racing car (it reminds me of a beach), but there is an essence of ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ to it.

8 – Ferrari SF70H (2017)
Ferrari SF70H
Kimi Raikkonen’s wounded Ferrari SF70H at the 2017 Spanish Grand Prix

Image Credit: Mark Thompson via Getty Images 

The livery of the SF70H plays homage to the Ferrari 312T – the most successful car in Formula One history, which won four constructors’ championships and three drivers titles between 1975 and 1980.

In a tribute to the Niki Lauda years, the white of the shark fin, and the detail of the number outline, echo the 1975 – 1977 liveries in particular. Iconic.

Other than that, very few modern Ferraris come anywhere near this list. Too often they just paint it red and stick some potentially sketchy sponsor in bright green paint on the upper bodywork. Or something like that.

7 – Williams FW25 (2003)
Williams FW25
Williams ran a virtually unchanged livery between 2001 and 2005 when their relationship with BMW ended

Image Credit: Clive Rose via Getty Images

As the last great independent team in Formula One, Williams have relied heavily on title sponsorship throughout their existence. Their liveries have differed drastically because of it – from the white and green Saudi cars of the early 80s to the Martini colours of the mid-2010s – but they sure did get it right in the early 2000s.

The white and navy with silver accents work brilliantly together. The car looks elegant and upmarket, which are both things you’d expect from a BMW.

The 2003 car wins out because the FW25 had slightly darker blue paint than its predecessors, and I couldn’t possibly opt for the walrus nosed FW26. But admittedly, I have a soft spot for the FW26 because of it, but I know I’m virtually alone in doing so.

6 – McLaren MP4-23 (2008)
McLaren MP4-23
The McLarens donned this livery for seven seasons between 2007 and 2013, but we’re going to forget about the cars from 2009 onwards because they looked a bit silly

Image Credit: Darren Heath via Getty Images

McLaren are another team whose liveries change with each generation. If you ask my father, a McLaren is white and red; to me, black and grey; and to my little sister, they’re papaya orange.

But whilst this top 10 is obviously subjective, I do objectively think that the best-looking McLaren of the 21st century is neither West-sponsored nor orange. It’s chrome and red.

F1E Ad

The MP4-23 glistens and shines, and although the bodywork is complicated, it looks mean. I’ve gone for the 2008 car because MP4-22 had ‘bullhorn’ winglets on the airbox, which in my view, made it look like it was wearing a cowboy hat.

5 – Red Bull RB15 (2019)
Red Bull RB15
Red Bull have raced in dark blue or navy since entering the sport as a manufacturer in 2005, but the livery they’ve been using since 2016 is a cut above the rest

Image Credit: NurPhoto via Getty Images

Much like with the chrome McLaren, if a team doesn’t change their livery at all – save for a few sponsors – for six seasons, it’s for good reason: they’ve nailed it.

Gone are the days of the high gloss finish. Matte is all the range in Formula One now, and since Red Bull moved away from the metallic paint of the Vettel era, they’ve elevated their livery game.

It just works. The Red Bulls have always been heavy on their own branding, but it doesn’t feel gauche here. It’s a shame the Red Bull didn’t look this good when Sebastian Vettel was winning four consecutive titles for them.

(The 2019 car wins for two reasons: I like the break in the red stripe above the bargeboard for the Aston Martin name, and I’m feeling nostalgic for their pre-2020 wider nose.)

4 – Jordan EJ11 (2001)
Jordan EJ11
The EJ11 epitomises everything great about Jordan. It’s playful, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s just a little bit outrageous

Image Credit: Clive Mason via Getty Images

Where to begin? Well, it’s a shark. Thanks to their relationship with Tobacco brand Benson & Hedges, Jordan have had snakes, they’ve had hornets, but for me, the shark is the best of the lot. It looks both mean and goofy in equal measure – a unique blend – and that little shark fin on the sidepod must be deliberate. Surely?

The yellow is bold and stands out in true Jordan fashion. Formula One has always had showmen and mavericks – think Hesketh and Hunt – but I like to imagine that Jordan ruffled some feathers within the F1 oligarchy.

It’s just a beautiful car.

3 – Arrows A22 (2001)
Arrows A22
The A22 wasn’t as competitive as the A21, but a slight rework of the Orange-inspired livery made the car look stunning whilst towards the back of the pack

Image Credit: Pascal Rondeau via Getty Images

Staying in 2001 – clearly, a very aesthetically pleasing Formula One season – the Arrows A22 was the pick of the bunch. The team had played with orange on their cars prior to their sponsorship with the phone network Orange, but the black and orange of the early 2000s will go down as an all-time great look.

As spectacular as the recent McLarens look, to me, when it comes to the orange livery debate, they don’t hold a candle to the Arrows cars. The black forms the perfect foundation to allow the colour to really pop.

A truly wonderful looking car, but it is perhaps best remembered for Enrique Bernoldi holding up David Coulthard for almost 40 laps at the 2001 Monaco Grand Prix when the Scot could have lapped 4.5 seconds faster. At least Orange got their fair share of television exposure that day.

2 – AlphaTauri AT02 (2021)
AlphaTauri AT02
The AT01 also had a gorgeous livery, but AlphaTauri have knocked it out of the park with the 2021 car

Image Credit: Clive Mason via Getty Images

Exquisite. Since their relaunch at the end of 2019, the team have really stepped up their branding. And if the Red Bull family excel at one thing, it’s marketing.

I must confess, and I’m aware that this is somewhat of a hot take, but I never got on with the blue and red Toro Rosso livery. It just didn’t captivate me in the way the AlphaTauris have.

The navy is a lovely shade, and the white base really sets it off. The red of the Honda logo, coupled with the high-wake, sporty (as strange as that sounds) shape of the car, makes for a truly striking look. Not to mention the thin navy stripe, which makes it feel classy as well.

1 – Jaguar R2 (2001)
Jaguar R2
The livery changed very little over their largely disappointing five years in F1, with the magnificent Jaguar on the upper bodywork the centrepiece

Image Credit: Paul-Henri Cahier via Getty Images

Unbelievably, a third car from 2001. It is genuinely a coincidence that the first race I remember watching is the Australian Grand Prix from that season – I promise, there’s no 2001 bias at play.

The R2 beats the other Jaguars for the simple fact that it has a better green to white ratio – the white works well in small quantities, but too much and the car begins to lose some of the glamour and appeal.

Truth be told, British racing green is an undeniable staple of motorsport, and Formula One isn’t the same without it. The 21st Century has seen flashes from Jaguar, Lotus/Caterham and now Aston Martin, and the grid is undoubtedly a more beautiful place when graced with green cars.

This particular take on British racing green is a masterpiece. It looks stunning in the sun, and I can only imagine how special it would have looked under the lights of Singapore. Coupled with the Jaguar on the engine cover, the result is one of the most beautiful cars in the history of Formula One.

Do you agree with my choices, or think I’ve made some shocking omissions? Which liveries would you choose? Let me know in the comments.

Headline Image Credit: @McLarenF1 on Twitter

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