Formula One

The best special liveries of the past 20 years in Formula 1

With McLaren ready to use its second special livery of the season this weekend in Silverstone, we have the opportunity to revisit some of the best one-off liveries in the sport’s recent history. We have chosen a few from this century, so let’s begin!

Jaguar – 2004 Monaco Grand Prix

Jaguar had a five-year stint in Formula 1 from 2000 to 2004, before it was bought by Red Bull. For all its races, the British team ran green liveries, but there was one special livery the team did, that will live long in the memory. Not as much in terms of how beautiful or significant it was, but because of what happened in the race.

At the Monaco Grand Prix, the team painted parts of its car in red and placed a diamond worth $300,000 on the nosecone of each car. It wasn’t the wisest move as it proved. Christian Klien crashed at the hairpin on the first lap and the diamond fell off the car. Its fate remains unknown to this day, although it is very much possible that it got lost in the cleanup process. The other car, driven by Mark Webber, dropped out of the race because of a gearbox issue, but the diamond was in the team’s possession and intact.

Red Bull – 2006 Monaco Grand Prix

In 2006, Red Bull was still a small team in Formula 1 and heading to Monaco it was still chasing its first podium finish. It would sport a special livery in Monaco, as it was promoting a new film by DC Comics, “Superman Returns”, while the drivers sported overalls painted like Superman’s famous suit.

The Red Bull team launches the RB2, painted to promote "Superman Returns"
Photo by XPB / Icon Sport

Eventually, the new livery brought luck to the team! David Coulthard gave the team its first podium finish, prompting his team principal, Christian Horner, to jump in a swimming pool with just Superman’s red cape on! For the other driver, Christian Klien, the race ended abruptly towards the end, when his transmission failed.

Red Bull – 2012 British Grands Prix

In support of its charity “Wings for Life”, Red Bull has used a special livery at Silverstone twice, in 2008 and in 2012. On both occasions, fans paid to have their photo on the car and all proceeds were donated to charity. The second time Red Bull attempted the project, they placed the fans’ photos over the normal livery of the car, giving it a lighter than normal color.

The second of two special liveries Red Bull has run for Wings for Life
Photo by XPB / Icon Sport

Mark Webber drove the car (and thousands of fans on it) to victory, with Sebastian Vettel also making it onto the podium, in third. A beautiful car for a great cause and a successful result!

Mercedes – 2019 German Grand Prix

In their 200th Grand Prix, which also happened on home soil and in the team’s 125th anniversary season, Mercedes paid homage to its past, with a livery that combined the team’s normal silver livery for that season and a white nose. When Mercedes first entered racing, it did so with a white livery, as those were the national German colors. Before a race in 1934 though, the team found its cars one kilogram overweight. To drop below the weight limit, the mechanics stripped the colour off the car, leaving the silver aluminium exposed. The car went on to win and thus the “Silver Arrows” were born, with Mercedes painting their cars silver from then on.

Valtteri Bottas in the W10 with the white nose.
Photo by Hoch Zwei / Icon Sport

The livery depicted some of the manufacturer’s past glory, but the result at Hockenheim did not. Lewis Hamilton led early on, before a mistake put him into the barriers. He brought the car home in ninth position after a few repairs, while another accident for Valtteri Bottas put him out of the race. Such was the disappointment, that Toto Wolff remarked the team would never do a special livery again.

Ferrari – 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix

In 2020, Formula 1 visited Mugello for the first time. The event took place because of cancellations due to COVID-19, but it was a significant one. The circuit is placed just a hundred kilometres away from Ferrari’s base in Maranello and the event would be the team’s 1000th in the championship. To celebrate the occasion, Ferrari replaced the bright red on the livery of the SF1000 with a different color, dark burgundy, while both of its drivers used special helmets in honour of the achievement. Significantly, the Mercedes-AMG that served as the safety car was also painted in red, instead of its usual silver colour.

Charles Leclerc in the dark burgundy SF1000
Photo by XPB / Icon Sport

Sadly for the Tifosi, the celebrations were not matched with a good result, as 2020 was a difficult season for the Scuderia. Charles Leclerc was just eighth, two places ahead of his teammate, Sebastian Vettel.

McLaren – 2021 Monaco Grand Prix

For the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix, McLaren switched from its all-papaya livery to one painted in the blue and orange colors of its sponsor, Gulf. The oil company has a rich history in motorsport, with its livery adorning plenty of cars in various racing series. One of those cars was the McLaren F1 GTR, which raced in the 1997 Le Mans 24 Hours.

Lando Norris with his McLaren painted in the colors of Gulf
By XPB / Icon Sport

The car had a successful outing in the streets of Monte Carlo, as Lando Norris achieved his third podium finish in Formula 1 by finishing in third position. On the other hand, Daniel Ricciardo finished twelfth after a difficult weekend.

Red Bull – 2021 Turkish Grand Prix

Before the conclusion of the 2021 Formula 1 season, Honda announced it would leave the sport at the end of the year, thus its partnership with Red Bull and Alpha Tauri would come to an end. The senior team had given the Japanese manufacturer its first victory since it returned in 2015 and, as it turned out, its first championship as well when Max Verstappen was crowned in the season finale.

Max Verstappen driving the "White Bull", paying tribute to Honda
By Hoch Zwei / Icon Sport

Red Bull planned to pay tribute to Honda with this livery at Suzuka, but the Japanese Grand Prix was cancelled because of travel restrictions in relation to COVID-19. Instead, it sported its unique white livery in the Turkish Grand Prix, which was brought on the calendar to replace the Japanese one. White was Honda’s color when it debuted in the sport during the 1960s. The “White Bull”, as it was called, claimed a double podium finish, with Max Verstappen second and Sergio Perez third.

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