How do the 2009 F1 cars compare to other single-seater racing cars?

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Heikki Kovalainen testing the 2009 Mclaren at the Algarve circuit

The 2009-style F1 cars have got a lukewarm reaction from fans – less than half of F1 Fanatic readers thought they looked good when we did a poll on it last week.

To get to the heart of what’s gone wrong with F1 car aesthetics I thought we should compare them to top single-seaters from other categories – and see which, if any, look better…

For me, the GP2 cars are the pick of the bunch. Low, fast, wide – they look sleek and quick.

A1 and Superleague have got good body shapes, particularly the A1 car, which is very similar to the Ferrari F2004 F1 car. There’s some gaudy liveries though, and some of the football strip designs on the Superleague cars look ghastly. Not as bad as the R29’s mind…

I never liked the look of the current Indy cars. It’s such a shame they effectively replaced the handsome Panoz chassis used by Champ Car in its final season in 2008, or the neat Lola that preceded it. The World Series by Renault cars, which ape the design of past Renault F1 cars, suffer from too many ugly aerodynamic protusions.

I’m surprised how good the new F1 cars look by comparison – though the difference in size between the front and rear wings is still a problem for me. What I can’t help but wonder is, if the GP2 cars can serve up great racing without having to use daft wings, why do this year’s F1 cars have to?

And the best-looking car is...

  • A1 Grand Prix (11%)
  • Superleague Formula (5%)
  • World Series by Renault (9%)
  • GP2 (32%)
  • Indy Racing League (6%)
  • F1 (37%)

Total Voters: 363

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More about GP2, GP2 Asia, WSR, A1GP, IRL and Suprleague Formula on Maximum Motorsport

Images (C) (x2), BMW ag, Ferrari spa, IRL (x3), GP2 Media Service (x3), Renault World Series (x3), Superleague Formula (x3), (x3)

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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50 comments on “How do the 2009 F1 cars compare to other single-seater racing cars?”

  1. note* those IRL shots were a 1 off round at Surfers’ Paradise last year since CHAMP car went bust , IRL came and a majority of the drivers couldn’t understand the idea of a street circuit , and the race was dominated by ex f1/true opener wheeler drivers , and for the first time an aussie one the race , the last year an American open wheeler race the streets of my home down , i’d like to see the f1 circus have a round at Surfers’ Paradise but instead were getting A1 this year. cool i guess

  2. I still think that F1 2009 rear and front wings make the car look clumsy. Not pretty and not like a true racing cars. F1 was already pretty interesting last year. I agree with the rest of new aero rules, but disagree with those 2 wings. Cars in almost every other series look like a normal formula cars and still the racers are interesting. I don’t think it was all that needed in F1. However, I’ll still follow the F1 (demolition)races because they don’t broadcast other series in my country and because the drivers in F1 are more familiar… let the saga continue. Can’t wait the rainy races ;)

  3. I think it’s only fair to point out that some 2009 F1 cars are very good looking, like the McLaren, and some are dog-ugly, like the Ferrari and Renault. You can’t tar them all with the same brush. To me the Ferrari looks like an intermediate ‘mule’, testing new parts but not the finished article. The wings are going to look odd for a while, until development progresses them. As for the other comparison cars, most of them look like F1 cars did 10 or more years ago. Is that progress? Are they aerodynamically weaker than 2008 F1 cars? I’d say so, especially the US cars which are a real throwback to the late 80’s in those terms.

  4. With the 09 cars, pretty much depends on the angle you are looking at :)

    I have only seen very few pictures from McLaren and the side view image on this post does not reveal it’s ugliness :)

    I do agree that some cars look more curvy (better) then others. For example, Toyota looks like it’s hand-hewn (cut) with the axe :)

  5. Agree that GP2 are beautiful, and that races are great even thoutgh they don’t have such an orrible front wing.
    Anyway F1 cars look much better than all the others., to me.
    IRL are the worst.

    1. The proportions of F1 wings are definitely strange and look bad, although the more you get used to them the less you notice them. However GP2 cars, which had pre-09 wings but had clean sidepods, looked definitely better.
      The GP2/11 cars are copied from F1 cars but still look better than them in my opinion.

  6. Jonesracing82
    3rd February 2009, 9:46

    one prob the F1 cas had was that the centre of the front wing wasn’t flat, and created downforce, this is the most affected part of the wing by turbulance, the old GP2 chassis IMO produced better racing than the current one, the old GP2 was good as i say, as was early 90’s and early 00’s champcars!
    late 80’s-early 90’s (prob up to ’91) were good looking also before the high noses came in!
    interestingly, the GP2 cars have a flat centre of the front wing! as, thankfully do this years f1 cars, tho some (Ferrari, Toyota) still have ugly winglets on the sidepods, wernt they meant to be outlawed?

    1. Ferrari, Toyota still have ugly winglets on the sidepods, wernt they meant to be outlawed?

      Williams have them too. Hope they do get banned, but my money is on it not happening.

  7. My favourites are those Superleague Formula cars. I think they look wonderful, they have the right amount of everything. A few flip-ups, but not too many; curvy wings, but not to the extent of last year’s F1 wings. They’re also low, long and wide.

  8. Sorry F1, I never thought this would happen, but for me you are now the bottom of the pack when it comes to looks.

    The GP2 and A1GP cars do it for me in these pics, but they still don’t come close to the F1 cars of the past few years. I’d pick the WSR over the Superleague, and the Superleague over the IRL. The IRL car is somewhat hideous, but I would still rather be seen in, or standing next to, it than the current F1 cars.

    True, in some views the 2009 F1 cars look fine. But most of the times we won’t be seeing them in that view. Some do look better than others, but not different enough to make a significant difference for me. I sincerely hope that these machines evolve quickly, rules permitting, to become aesthetically pleasing and perform quickly.

    If it weren’t for the current drivers and teams I’ve watched and supported all these years, then I probably wouldn’t bother with F1 this year. As said before, this season had better be the best racing ever.

  9. Wow, those IRL cars are ugly! They look like they are from the seventies.

    1. My only problem with them is the weird low nose and then the lump in front of the cockpit. Otherwise I like ’em.

  10. Well at least F1 cars look a little different to each other, with different looking wings, sidepods etc. Where’s A1GP, IndyCar etc are mereley all spec series.

    But I do concur with Keith with GP2 cars, they look normal and produce some fantastic racing.

  11. Didn’t Champ Car use the same cars as GP2?

    1. No – Champ Car used Panoz in ’07, and before that Lolas. GP2 use chassis built by Dallara, who also build IRL chassis, but they’re not the same models.

  12. Not one really stands out for me. I can’t make up my mind…

  13. AmericanTifosi
    3rd February 2009, 13:13

    Next to those wretched IRL cars F1 cars look incredibly beautiful. (Renault excluded, that car looks like it’s been sat on)

  14. Aesthetically, the problem with the F1 ’09 cars is the front wings, no question. I have no problem with the narrow and high rear wings and I positively love the clean lines of the chassis – but they all look a little bit like really expensive snow-ploughs to me. As well, I think that it’s quite probable that after too many of those front wings get easily detached in close first-corner battles in the first two races of the season, the regulations will be amended to make them narrower.

  15. The GP2 car (specially the 2005-2007 one which is still used in the Asian season) is the best. By far. Awesome car in both looks and racing terms.

  16. One thing I think is missing from the sidepods of the 09 F1 cars is the flipups that they used to have right in front of the rear wheels, they gave a little bit more substance to the rear bodywork and I miss them. I agree with all above though who say that the front wings leave a lot to be desired.

    But as will all things, time will tell whether the new regs will improve the racing.

  17. Haha, you picked the most favourable F1 pictures possible :) And you should have shown the Renault…
    GP2 and IndyCars look the best.

    I don’t really get the hate for Indys.
    Isn’t that beautiful? Those cars have balls.

    1. LOL! Actually I just picked cars from the top three teams, but I’ll stick a Renault in there to make it fair if you like?

  18. f1 is still the best looking car according to me.
    except the rear wing, it’s so tiny. not as good-looking as 2008 design.

  19. F1 has the best looking O/W car out of all of them. I like this look over the old car. It looks Sleek and Clean.

  20. @DC
    When Champ Car went under they were using a custom-designed Panoz chassis, the DP01. Not a bad looking car, and fast too–Bourdais beat the Laguna Seca track record previously held by Zonta in the 2006 Toyota. True, Zonta’s mark was set in a demonstration run, not a proper test, and who knows how hard he was pushing, but the DP01 was definitely a major step up from GP2.

  21. Keith you forgot the new Formula Nippon chassis. But seriously I liked the Champ Car DP01 best. On this list GP2 looks the best.

    1. Have you got any decent pictures of it? Forgot about Nippon, I never see it on TV, you see…

  22. My rating goes like this. Superleague cars followed by A1GP cars followed by GP2 followed by f1 cars followed by WSR cars followed by IRL cars.

    Isnt it ironic that the series which has got the correct concept (F1) cannot have cars that are good on your eye but the series which has the lousiest, naffest (if there’s a word!), most cynical concept (Superleague) of racing has the most good looking car! Why cant someone EVER get BOTH right…..

    Comparing GP2 cars with F1 is not fair given that one is a spec series and hence lets you design the car as you please and the other is all about performance through development and the participants couldn’t care less about how the car looks. But i still believe F1 could have rules that can ensure good racing while making sure that the cars are not as hideous as they are now.

    1. lol in British slang and certain circles the word ‘naff’ can be quite rude. Google it and you will see. You may prefer to use the word more sparingly from here on lol…

    2. I’ve never heard the word ‘naff’ mean anything more than something being a bit rubbish.

      So I say, carry on with the naff. Especially seeing as the Superleague concept is a bit naff, yet it does have the best looking cars.

    3. Fair enough but if you want to enlighten yourself and be aware of its multiple meaning then google it especially under the context of polari…

    4. Ok, indeed I have, but I believe that it is most probably fair enough to say that Polari has all but died out, and that the word has taken on a much more common and inoffensive meaning in recent times.

      But thank you for pointing it out, always good to expand the mind :)

    5. Isnt it ironic that the series which has got the correct concept (F1) cannot have cars that are good on your eye but the series which has the lousiest, naffest (if there’s a word!), most cynical concept (Superleague) of racing has the most good looking car!

      Couldn’t agree more. Was talking to a mate of mine who’s a big Liverpool FC fan. They have a Superleague team, but he hates the idea as much as I do. So where are their fans coming from?

    6. From what I heard when they first announced the series a couple of years ago (when they showed off that Glasgow Rangers liveried car), it wasn’t so much the fans of football and motorsport wanting the series, but the guy who came up with the idea saying :

      “people like motorsport… people like football… so people must be wanting for a series which combines both”

      Ok, yes, maybe. But I bet lots of people also like both bacon and ice cream…

      Cars still look good though.

    7. mmm bacon and ice-cream, now there’s an idea for Heston Blumenthal…

  23. All of these cars look fine to me, depends on the livery. They also look very fast on TV, all of them.
    What I really think is important is the car related to its environment. Hopefully the future rules and management take this into account, so that we can see 26 of these in Road Atlanta, Kyalami or Spa rather than 12 of them in a new track.
    As long as the´re driven by Alonso, Hamilton, Webber, etc, I don´t think it matters very much what the technical specifications are, and to the eyes of the spectator you can´t tell the difference whether they cost 400 million to run or 80. They all look beautiful and fast ! for me the difference is the livery, the history of the team, and where they´re racing …..
    If you watch bike racing on TV, it is much more exciting to watch Superbikes in Brands Hatch than MotoGp in China. A superbike ( derived from a street bike ) is much less costly and sophisticated than a MotoGp bike, yet the environment makes it look a lot faster.
    However now that the issue has been brought up, I think that last year´s F1 cars looked about the best of all of these !

  24. I still think the F1 cars look best, GP2 aren’t bad but they’re spec cars so you don’t get any variety.


    Aesthetically, the problem with the F1 ‘09 cars is the front wings, no question. I have no problem with the narrow and high rear wings

    To be honest mate I disagree entirely.
    I don’t mind the front wings but think the rear wings look terrible from any angle other than side on.

    Suppose this just proves you can’t please all of the people all of the time :-)

  25. I have to admit I had been expecting the 2009 F1 cars to look similar to the IRL cars – low bodies, wide wheels and very little aerodynamics, but balanced front and rear. Why haven’t the F1 cars gone like that?
    The GP2 cars are the best of the bunch, they make it all look so easy – but aren’t they based on a previous Renault F1 design?

    1. The GP2 cars are the best of the bunch, they make it all look so easy – but aren’t they based on a previous Renault F1 design?

      That’s the WSR ones – look at the sidepods, dead giveaway.

  26. theRoswellite
    3rd February 2009, 21:02

    …..eye of the beholder and all that…

    My aesthetic evaluation, certainly not consciously, will get warped by lap times, so ask this question at mid-season.
    Actually this would be an interesting poll, done at the first of the season and at the end, to see if a cars publicly perceived “beauty” was a function of winning; though I’m sure Keith has better things to do with his time than conduct research into “beauty as a function of success”, i.e. does an Andy Warhol become more “appealing” when one learns it is worth $2.5 million? Probably, and especially if one learns of the “value” before seeing the work for the first time.

    Sorry, we were discussing cars, I’m kinda partial to the shine of the McLaren.

  27. I am an F1 fan(atic). Even if they drive trucks; I will watch F1.

    1. Truck racing… now there’s a motorsport discipline that I just can’t bring myself to watch.

  28. HounslowBusGarage
    3rd February 2009, 21:16

    Not really a fair question Keith, as all the others are one-shape formulae.
    If you asked me what looked best, the 2009 MacLaren or A1/GP2 etc etc, I’d say the MacLaren. But if you asked whether the 2009 Toyota looked better than a Superleague, I’d probably give you a rude answer!

  29. I do think the good f1 cars for 09 are the best looking but, at the same time i’m not sure about the high narrow rear wing on the f1 cars. But overall that is not my biggest worry however.

    The last time the f.i.a made such drastic changes to F1 it resulted in deaths.Ok so senna’s death was a fluke with the wheel getting trapped between the car and the wall, but it was the changes which caused his car to keep bottoming out and losing grip which caused the crash.

    I’m very afraid there may well be a death in F1 this coming season. I just hope my fears are unfounded.

    What do any of you other F1 experts think?

    1. I think the cars are so much safer now than they were in ’94 that even if there is a big accident (and can you remember the last year there wasn’t a least one shunt resulting in the medical team being called in) then the driver will be fine.

      Just look at Kubica’s crash in ’07. 10 years ago he would have been dead, or at least seriously injured, but apart from a slight bump to the head, he was fine. I don’t think the cars will have got any less safe as a result of the changes to the regs this year.

      Apart from KERS that is…

  30. IRL Cars aren’t the best looking, but they are changing. Were getting Turbo’s!

    Audi, Porsche, Fiat, and VW are all joining Honda in the new engine package.

  31. Its amazing the amount of daylight you can see when viewing the 2009 F1 cars from certain angles.
    The cars don’t look aesthetically well balanced.

    Its a known fact that as one grows older, we begin to lose our attraction for those stylish and modern looking things and instead gravitate towards those nostalgic or even blandish or drab articles. I believe Mosley’s eyes have lost their attraction for those things that are stylish. He now thinks in straight lines rather than curves.

  32. Those Formula Nippon cars look the business!
    Perhaps its the lack of an airbox that makes the car look lower and sleeker. It worked for all the old CART cars and that one-season Panoz. It’s a shame the IRL haven’t bothered with the Panoz instead of those lumpy things- Robin Miller has it right calling them ‘boats’.
    GP2 cars are nice but a bit bland. They look too ‘spec’ and like cheap F1 copies. And they have the same ‘T’ on board camera that spoils the look.

  33. Cars in almost every other series look like a normal formula cars and still the racers are interesting.

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