27 September 2018 · Dennis Schmidt

Top 9 F1 One-Off Liveries

In a recent talk at the Motorsport Leaders Business Forum in London, McLaren's CEO Zak Brown expressed that Formula One should consider allowing teams to run special one-off liveries. While it's very common for helmets, it didn't happen with cars very often in the past. But some still made their way on the grid. Here are our Top 10 one-off liveries that were used in official sessions – testing liveries don't count.

9. Yellow Marlboro McLaren – 1986

In the 1986 Portuguese Grand Prix, the red shapes of Keke Rosberg's McLaren were replaced by yellow ones. The reason: main sponsor Marlboro wanted to advertise their Marlboro Lights brand which is yellow or golden, depending on the reason. It never returned since and let's be honest – yellow and white have way too little contrast to work well. The special livery didn't go on Alain Prost's car by the way. He still ran the common red and white combination.


8. Kronenbourg Larrousse – 1994

For three rounds in 1994, Larrousse ran a special livery on Beretta's and Comas' cars. For the Pacific, San Marino and Monaco Grands Prix, their main sponsor Kronenbourg decided to advertise the in-house beer brand instead of their other subsidiary Tourtel. Hence the mostly green livery made way for a red and white checkboard pattern, probably giving the team well-needed money as other sponsors also disappeared from the cars for these races. Leaving some rear and front wing elements in green colour didn't really help the aesthetics though.


7. Wings For Life Red Bull – 2008

For his final Formula One race, David Coulthard sported a one-off livery promoting Red Bull's charity organisation ‘Wings For Life‘. Instead of having dark blue as the main colour as usual, this Red Bull was white while still keeping some visual cues from the regular. Apart from the fact that it wasn't recognizable as a Red Bull car (which isn't necessarily bad) it ended up being a bit of an awkward compromise between the two brands.


6. Gitanes Ligier – 1993

For the final two rounds of the 1993 season, Ligier ran a special livery on Martin Brundle's car. It was designed by comic artist Hugo Pratt and basically made the brand presence of main sponsor Gitanes even stronger, thereby removing all other sponsor logos from the car. Design-wise it looks a bit messy and the sponsor isn't really recognizable unless you know what you're looking for. But it's definitely a memorable livery.


5. Star Wars Red Bull – 2005

In its first Formula One season, Red Bull Racing ran a special livery that advertised Star Wars Episode III – Revenge of the Sith at the Monaco Grand Prix. It added some fire effects and Darth Vader to the livery which don't really match anything else on the car, making it look pretty clumsy overall. Then again, you can't really go wrong with Star Wars.


4. Graffiti BAR – 2004

Back in 2004, all teams except the four top ones were allowed to field a third car in the practice sessions on Friday. For the Brazilian Grand Prix, the ran their third car – driven by Anthony Davidson – in a graffiti-style livery that made it look quite grungy and actually quite cool. Of course all sponsorship (except Lucky Strike) went overboard but manufacturer teams can probably get away with it. By the way, this wasn't the only time Honda has run a special livery in this season's practice sessions though because…


3. 555 BAR – 2004

…at the Chinese Grand Prix, Honda ran their extra car in true style with the blue livery and yellow stickers of cigarette brand ‘555’ – the one that Colin McRae ran on the Subaru Impreza in the World Rally Championship during the mid-1990's. Unfortunately, they tried a bit too hard by simulating a night sky (at least that's we think it was meant to be) with some stars and black clouds. Nevertheless, it was really cool to see it on track.


2. 9/11 Ferrari – 2001

Following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001, Ferrari decided to run a sponsorless red car with a black tip of the nose as an hommage in Monza of all places. The sponsor logos were also removed from the trucks and team gear. Other teams like Jordan and Jaguar also made modifications to their liveries, though not as drastic as Ferrari. As tragic as the reason for this one-off livery is, it's one of the prettiest ones in history because of its sheer simplicity.


1. Superman Red Bull – 2006

Monaco 2005 wasn't the only time Red Bull ran a special livery. They did the same in 2006 – also in Monaco and also advertising a Hollywood movie – and this time really knocked it out of the park. On its usual dark blue basis, the car basically wore a red Superman cape at the rear and had some light blue accents from the costume on the nose. The colour scheme fit the car perfectly – red being the main colour of Red Bull's logo – and is actually kind of reminiscent of today's Toro Rosso livery. Beautiful.


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About the author

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Dennis Schmidt is a graphic and UI/UX designer as well as motor racing enthusiast from Hamburg, Germany.