RORY'S RAMBLINGS - An Occasional Column from the Antipodes

Rory's Ramblings

Pretty Machinery
No. 19, 4 June, 1996
by Rory Gordon

There have been some shockingly ugly F1 cars. I find that the 312T2 Ferraris of the late 1970s and the Ligier JS11 of the same era hurt my eyes when I look at them. Some of the more recent designs aren't THAT much better either; the Ferraris of 1993 with that ghastly white stripe and the Benetton B194s weren't exactly gorgeous.

So what is it that makes an F1 car "pretty"? Is it the design? Or the paint scheme? Or the engine? Or the driver? I think we can dispose of those last two straight away. The engine note sounds pretty ... but looks pretty? I think not!

And while a brilliant driver can make a bad car "look" good, we're really talking about the car's performance, not its appearance. Mind you, as a side-note, I have heard a lot of people saying that F1 will never look the same for them now that there isn't that yellow helmet in that red and white car - Ayrton Senna in a Marlboro-sponsored car. Myself, I think that Senna LOOKED much better when his yellow helmet was in the gold and black JPS Lotus cars; it fitted in with the colour scheme perfectly. But back to the subject.

So we really do come down to the simple appearance of a car, moving or stationary. And I can't say that design or paint is the dominant feature although a car that is ugly in design can be made to look reasonable by a clever paint scheme.

Have a look at the simplicity of the Marlboro paint scheme, whatever series the car is racing in. It certainly helps to make a car look good, with the red and white, and the diagonal (implying speedy?) layout. But it is easy to spoil that simple scheme. The McLarens of the late 1980s and until fairly recently, used to have black paint along the body just behind the front wheels - it looked silly, even if there was good reason for it.

While the Marlboro cars have great simplicity in their paint scheme, look back at the Benettons of 1993. The streaks of paint on the upper-rear bodywork didn't look too good when the car was stationary, but at speed, they made the car look even faster - an effect that really had to be seen to be understood.

Then take a look at the hotch-potch paint schemes of some of the lower teams that have to have lots of sponsors to get a decent level of funding. Their cars can be made to look terrible, even though there may be a pretty design underneath.

Form. For some reason, I just don't like airboxes or raised noses. I don't know why, but they just grate on my eyes. And those silly little winglets just in front of the main rear wing that many teams are using this season are another thing that I don't like.

Having made separate disparaging comments about airboxes and Ferraris, I'm now going to tell you that one of my favourite forms is the 1990 airbox-equipped Ferrari. Even with the airbox, it just flows (you have to say that word slowly) across the eyes whatever angle you look at it from. And the traditional Ferrari paint scheme is undisturbed by sponsor's colours. It is a pretty car.

The late 1970s and the 1980s produced cars that were basically ugly in form. Early on in that time, aerodynamics was a "black art" and all sorts of weird shapes were produced. Towering airboxes, strange wings, and odd holes cut into the bodywork all combined to produce cars that may have been fast, but looked ... well ... ugly.

Then came the turbo era, with the huge boxy sidepods, that had great chunks cut out of them, like the 1985 McLarens. But aerodynamics were now an important, more understood, part of F1 car design. The cars of that time looked much better than their predecessors, but there was still an ungainliness about them.

Then we came to the 1990s and the end of the turbos. Apart from those silly, high-downforce extra rear wings, the cars looked sleek and smooth and like racing cars. Oh, those cars were pretty!

But through all this there have been some things that just do not lend themselves to prettiness - the wheels, and the front wheels most of all. I have to admit that the now-defunct sports prototype cars are much prettier to look at than F1. Why? Quite simply because the entire car was hidden beneath a skin, wheels and all. Smooth, sleek and - dare I say it? - sexy.

So what does all this tell us about good-looking cars? Of course, the first lesson is that what I call ugly, you may well call pretty - in other words, "beauty is in the eyes of the beholder."

The second, and main line, I'm been trying to put over is that a pretty car is pretty in both form and colour ... and simple. It has a simple design that lends itself to the eye, gliding from the front of the car all the way to the back. There will be no strange bits hanging off the extremities of the car.

And then its paint scheme assists the eye in that gliding, leading the eye on, flowing from one point to the next. Actually, it's very hard to tell whether it's the shape or the paint that makes the eye move on!

After all this, just because a car is pretty, doesn't necessarily mean that it is fast and driveable. There are plenty of examples of cars that had a good, simple aerodynamic design, but were absolute horrors to drive. But that isn't what I set to discuss today.

And my favourite, prettiest, F1 car? The Lotus 79. Hands down. Simplicity at its best. A wedge shape simply painted in black and gold. Seemingly all integrated. Simply magnificent.

But that's just me.

Rory Gordon
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