5. Mercedes F1 W05 Hybrid (2014)
Mercedes re-joined Formula 1 in 2010 after their purchase of the Brawn GP team. They endured a few tough years back in the sport, gradually improving to post a best season-ending standing of 2nd in the Constructors’ Championship in 2013.
The engineers at Brackley chose to focus their energy and know-how on the new regulations which were expected to come into force in the coming years. They spent the majority of their R&D on hybrid technology as early as the 2011 campaign.
Unlike most teams on the grid, Mercedes realised that the most important factor coming into 2014 would be the engine. While the likes of Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull and Williams concentrated on upgrading their aerodynamic packages, Mercedes ended up producing a power unit which far surpassed the competition.
The greatest innovation of the so-called PU106A Hybrid motor was the fact that the turbo and compressor were located on opposite ends of the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine), allowing for better packaging and therefore a more sleek and aerodynamic design for the whole car.
Dubbed the W05 Hybrid, it won 16 out of a possible 19 races in the 2014 season, achieving pole positions thanks to Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg at all but one of the rounds on the calendar. The W05 kickstarted an extended period of dominance by the British outfit, which only came to a halt in 2021 after Max Verstappen took the Driver’s Championship in a Red Bull.
4. Ferrari F2004 (2004)
Michael Schumacher managed 5 straight Drivers’ crowns from 2000 to 2004, but I believe that 2004 was his zenith. Winning 15 of 18 races in the season, the F2004 was most probably the easiest of Schumi’s 7 WDCs.
The main factor of the success of the F2004 was not only its raw pace, but also its reliability. It only suffered 2 retirements in the entire calendar year, and these were both due to collisions rather than mechanical issues.
The chassis gelled very well with the custom-made Michelin tyres. In fact the F2004 was so fast that Ferrari could afford to implement several low-fuel stints in a race and still come out ahead of everyone else. For example, at the French Grand Prix Michael won the race ahead of Fernando Alonso (Renault) despite pitting four times!
3. Williams FW14/B (1992)
The FW14/B was an upgraded version of the FW14, which debuted in 1991. While extremely quick, it struggled to get off the mark early in the campaign with a host of retirements thanks to poor reliability. Williams had just introduced the semi-automatic gearbox for that year, which had various issues more often than not.
The improved FW14/B of 1992 was on another level however, giving Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese a combined 10 wins from 16 races. Mansell with 9 of these ended up taking the World Drivers’ Championship. Moreover, the FW14/B gave pole to Williams in all but one race over the whole campaign.
The trick up the car’s sleeve was undoubtedly its active suspension. As the name may suggest, it allowed miniscule tweaks to the suspension’s dynamic properties to be made on the fly, virtually changing from corner to corner. This helped maximise mechanical grip through the corners.
In several races the FW14/B was a couple seconds quicker than the next fastest team on track. For example, at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, Ayrton Senna in a McLaren ended up 3rd, a second adrift of Patrese and almost 3 seconds behind polesitter Mansell.
2. McLaren MP4/4 (1988)
McLaren’s 1988 effort is perhaps the fastest vehicle on this list on raw speed alone (compared to the competition). It achieved victory in every race of the season except at the Italian Grand Prix. At Monza both MP4/4s retired, handing a solemn win to Ferrari at their home event 4 weeks on from the tragic death of their owner Enzo Ferrari.
The McLaren MP4/4 was a beautiful marriage between an immensely powerful and reliable Honda V6 engine and a bulletproof chassis designed in part by none other than Gordon Murray. The acquisition of Honda motors was crucial in mounting a title charge, and the team from Woking managed to persuade the Japanese manufacturer to switch allegiance from Williams to them as main engine supplier.
The entire season was a tough battle between teammates Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. The Brazilian clinched the title with 8 wins to Prost’s 7, despite scoring fewer points overall than the Frenchman. This is because the rules at the time only counted a driver’s best 11 results in the Drivers’ Championship.
1. Lotus 72 (1970-1975)
For a car to last 6 whole seasons at the top flight of motorsport is on its own a huge achievement. But to achieve 3 Constructors’ crowns in the same time frame is simply astounding. The Lotus 72 also managed to hand Jochen Rindt his only WDC (the first and so far only posthumous F1 champion) as well as Emerson Fittipaldi’s first of two Drivers’ Championship titles in 1972.
The car was revolutionary when first introduced in 1970. It had a shape which looked completely alien compared to the rest of the paddock; it was wedge-shaped which Lotus had figured out was more aerodynamic than the cylindrically-shaped vehicles around it. Other innovations included side-mounted radiators situated within sidepods, as well as brakes in the chassis of the car rather than mounted on the wheels.
The 72 cruised to the top of the standings in 1970, managing the same success in 1972 and 1973 while the other teams continued to play catch-up. By 1975 the rest of the field had indeed caught up and Lotus slumped to 7th in the Constructors’ Championship. It is highly unlikely that we would see a single car be so fast for so long ever again in Formula 1.
So there we have it. This list has covered 70 years of the sport that we adore so much. Let us hope to see more cars introduce more innovations and dominate the rest of the field in the coming years!