Bruno Giacomelli, Life, Monaco, 1990

Life L190 – the worst F1 car ever – to run at Goodwood Festival of Speed

Goodwood Festival of Speed

Posted on

| Written by

The Life L190* – in all probability the worst F1 car ever – will be demonstrated by Derek Bell at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed.

The W12-engined car failed to progress beyond pre-qualifying in 14 attempts in 1990, and was typically around 20 seconds off the pace at most tracks.

It will take a place alongside some of the greatest Formula 1 cars ever, including the McLaren-Honda MP4/4, which won 15 out of 16 races in 1988.

The Life L190

Life’s Grand Prix effort in 1990 came about following the failed attempt of F3000 outfit FIRST to make the F1 grid in 1989.

Having failed to raise the money to compete FIRST sold its cars to Life Racing Engines, run by Italian Ernesto Vita. He was developing an engine created by Franco Rocchi, a former Ferrari engineer who had built a power unit around the unconventional W12 layout.

In fact, Rocchi’s engine was not a ‘true’ W-configuration, which has four banks of cylinders, as in the modern Bugatti Veyron. Life’s faux-W12 had three banks of four cylinders, two in V-formation and a third horizontal bank nestled in between.

In theory it would offer the power of a twelve-cylinder engine while using no more space than a conventional V8. But even in the days following the banning of turbo-chargers, when the field switched to normally-aspirated engines en masse, no team was interested in running Life’s radical power plants.

So the team bolted it into the old FIRST chassis – not the work of a moment, the car had to undergo considerable modifications to shoehorn the W12 in – and showed up at the first round of 1990 in Phoenix, America.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

40mph slower than anything

Reigning British F3000 champion Gary Brabham was picked as a driver, though he would not get to do much driving. The ignition box failed on car number 39 after three laps of pre-qualifying, barely enough time to get heat in the tyres. Not that the team had brought any tyre temperature gauges anyway, or, for that matter, spare ignition boxes, so their weekend was over.

At Brazil the car threw a connecting rod shortly after leaving the pits. Brabham failed to complete a lap, and wisely chose not to waste any more time with the team. Italian veteran Bruno Giacomelli took his place.

On the few occasions Giacomelli managed to coax a time out of the L190, it showed lamentable performance. At Silverstone it failed to pre-qualify by 19 seconds. The Formula Three cars which were also competing that weekend were only three seconds slower. That was the car’s strongest showing.

The long straights of the Hockenheimring brutally exposed the car’s power deficit. It was around 64kph (40mph) slower through the speed traps than any other car. Estimates placed the Life W12’s power output at around 375bhp, around half of that enjoyed by the McLaren-Hondas.

They later abandoned the W12 for a more conventional Judd V8. Efforts to remould the bodywork around this new engine were not entirely successful – the new engine cover flew off the car on its first lap of Estoril.

After the Spanish Grand Prix the team decided not to take on the Japanese and Australian rounds, and hasn’t been heard of since. The car eventually fell into the hands of a collector, which is how it has come to be demonstrated at Goodwood this year.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Pictures of the Life L190

A Goodwood spokesperson confirmed the car will run with its original W12 engine, which in 1990 proved incapable of powering the car for more than a few laps at the time. “The car might actually be in rather better condition now than it was 19 years ago” he added.

Ex-F1 driver and five times Le Mans winner Derek Bell jumped at the chance to drive the car because of its peculiar history.

There’s no denying the cult appeal of F1’s famously hopeless F1 teams, and Life’s effort was surely first among them all. I did ask Goodwood if they were considering a special category for F1’s worst cars, but unfortunately it seems this is a one-off.

I am genuinely looking forward to seeing this obscure and, yes, disastrously uncompetitive F1 car turn a wheel. Given its track record I will be sure to nab a spot as close to the start line as possible, certainly before it encounters any gradient.

Life’s F1 record

Here’s a summary of Life’s brief F1 record showing their best lap time in pre-qualifying and the gap to the fastest pre-qualifier:

Track Rank Time (gap) Notes
Phoenix 8/9 2’07.147 (+34.855) Gachot (Coloni) last with a 5’15.010
Interlagos 9/9 No time
Imola 7/8 7’16.312 (+5’49.737) Giacomelli took over; Tarquini (AGS) set no time
Monte-Carlo 9/9 1’41.187 (+14.053) 16s slower than back row of grid
Montreal 9/9 1’50.293 (+21.985) 25s slower than back row of grid
Mexico City 9/9 4’07.475 (+2’42.194)
Magny-Cours 9/9 No time
Silverstone 9/9 1’25.947 (+15.693) Best performance
Hockenheimring 9/9 2’10.786 (+25.273) 40mph slower than any car in speed traps
Hungaroring 9/9 1’41.131 (+19.913)
Spa-Francorchamps 7/7 2’19.445 (+21.504) Onyx cars withdrawn
Monza 7/7 1’55.224 (+28.297)
Estoril 7/7 No time Switched to Judd V8 engine
Jerez 7/7 1’42.699 (+20.229)

*I have seen conflicting accounts of the model designation, including L190, F190, W190 and 190. I’ve gone with L190, which seemed to appear the most often, but if you can offer a good reason for an alternative designation, please let me know.

Read more

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...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

38 comments on “Life L190 – the worst F1 car ever – to run at Goodwood Festival of Speed”

  1. This is so funny.

  2. KingHamilton&co
    29th June 2009, 20:58

    good article keith, i love all these rubbish cars from the late 80s/early 90s-when F1 was open to all who could through together some bits of metal and a steering wheel and when we ended up with hopeless teams like Life, Coloni, Andrea Moda etc-teams that are sadly long gone now, but will always remain as ‘the lighter side of F1’

    well, the mechanics etc must have hated being the big running joke, but they were good times. oh if the days of pre qualifying only returned! (if F1 had enough teams and the FIA would allow it ofcourse)

    1. Thanks! I would like to see a return to the days of big Grand Prix field but to be honest pre-qualifying was probably a bit cruel. These guys turned up on a Thursday and were on their way home by lunch time on Friday. Bit of a waste, really…

    2. I remember when the qualifying requirement was reduced from 110% to 107% of the pole sitter’s time…

      Just checked the British GP times from this year, and Buemi (20th) was just 100.9% of Vettel’s pole… that’s how close racing is now!

      1. Don’t forget that Vettel’s pole was with fuel, where as Buemi was as light as possible.

        Comparing the fastest Q2 time gives a 102.7% time

        1. “Don’t forget that Vettel’s pole was with fuel, where as Buemi was as light as possible.”

          Seriously? I thought the refuelling ban changed that…

          1. Check the date – that comment’s from 2009.

  3. F1 Outsider
    29th June 2009, 21:08

    Wow!!! 40mph slower… How dangerous that must’ve been when the rest of the pack were coming up to pass it every other lap. Luckily it never started a race, I suppose.

    I guess if you can’t succeed, you may as well fail so greatly that you’ll become known for being the worst ever and, hence, not forgotten.

    1. One of the pieces I read about it describes Giacomelli talking about how afraid he was someone would just slam into the back of him…

  4. or otherwise known as – 2009 Saubers BMW.

  5. Sometimes the sob stories are far more entertaining the the automotive acts of heroism. Life’s is particularly tragic. is one of my favourite websites, and finding out about these train-wreck teams (and drivers) always makes for a good read, even if it is at their expense.

    I think this is one of the things that modern F1 lacks. Yes it’s a silly-money business now, where professionalism and peak technology is paramount, but there was nothing like the stories of these teams turning up on the grid, numbers on the rear wings the wrong side of 30, and falling by the wayside almost as quickly.

    I think that all the teams on the standby list should be let in next year, if only so we have some backmarker stories to tell the next generation of F1 fans, rather than re-hashing our own of Forti, Simtek, Pacific and Lola.

    I hope you get some good photos of this piece of kit. I wonder what the W12 engine sounds like?

    1. F1 Rejects is great stuff, I’m really glad it’s back up again after their earlier problems.

      I hope you get some good photos of this piece of kit.

      I’ll do my best :-)

      1. I’m loving the new photos you’ve found and put up. So interesting to see these little-know cars in detail. Take the middle bank of that W12 away, and you’ve got a pretty low-profile V8, just like Renault were always striving to develop.

  6. make sure to take your girlfriends camera again then Keith :D

  7. Thanks for the link ajokay… stuff.

    The layout of that “w”12 engine,with “a bank of cylinders wedged between the other two banks” in the L190 seems like it would have a high center of gravity than a standard W12,I would think that affected it’s weight distribution greatly.

  8. Keith,

    can we find out how many engines each of the top 5 drivers has used so far this season ?

    I am hearing Vettel has one or perhaps even two fewer engines left in comparison to Button. Do you have any such data ?

    1. I do know none of them have used W12s… I’ll have a look.

      1. Currently the car is owned by a well-known italian tuner car, willing to sell it to a real enthusiast. Contact me if you know someone really interested!

        1. I don’t but if I hear from someone who is I’ll pass their details along.

        2. Yes, I´m interested, is this car still available?

    2. Vettel has used 5 & Button 4, F1 Fan

      1. Thanks persempre. It is rumored Ferrari will announce Alonso at the Monza GP, 5-year deal.

  9. aaah hahahahahahahahaha….
    Sooo funny. I remember the Life car.
    Just for the funny record you can’t leave out the ’72 March 721X. It was intended to set new standards but passed into history as a flop. It’s low polar moment design concentrated mass within the wheelbase. For sure though, Life has the record for trying the most times to qualify that piece of junk!

  10. to be a little positive, it’s only 64km slower with half the HP, that sounds ok… but hell what a bad car :)


    What about this kind of…I don’t know what?!?!?
    If this were as slow as ugly I think they are really in the worse ever seen.

  12. I REALLY hope that someone manages to film this thing so that we can all listen to how it sounds like. Someone on Autosport’s Nostalgia Forum said it sounded like “a bag of spanners in a tumbledryer”.

  13. Last team in this spirit was Forti Corse – as recently as 1996. Those were the days..Diniz, Moreno et al!

  14. Hi Keith

    Could you explain what the rank coloum means on that table?

    1. That’s the position they achieved in pre-qualifying, out of the number of cars that took part. As you see, most of the time they came last, and on the occasions they didn’t it was because some misfortune had befallen another car.

      1. Thanks Andy.

  15. Reminds me of another infamous car to which im a ‘fan’ of…

  16. Ferrari Bubba
    3rd July 2009, 3:16

    I remember seeing the Life L190 in the pits at Phoenix. Compared to it, the ’63 ATS was a screamer!

    Yer pal, Ferrari Bubba

  17. In my opinion, it wasn’t as bad as the Lola T97, which failed it’s PQ session 2/2 times. I think the car looked rather nice being as it was very similar to a Ferrari. I’d love to see the F1 pack being so mixed like it was 20 years ago when like you said “40 mph slower”. It would have done well if they spent more money into their engine.

  18. Ex-F1 driver and five times Le Mans winner Derek Bell jumped at the chance to drive the car because of its peculiar history.

    Come on, I wouldn’t like to drive that car.

    1. Proves he has a sense of humour

  19. Why is there a “U.S.S.R.” sticker?

  20. The car that ran in Goodwood was actually better built than the one than the one that raced during the season. How do I know? I was with Life in Goodwood AND during all 1990 season…
    If you want to hear how it sounds, check this out
    BTW the USSR sticker was placed after Ernesto Vita struck a deal (of some sorts – I don’t really know the details) with PIC, a ex USSR company dealing with Titanium and precious metals scraps, AFAIK.

  21. PS – BTW many can be ‘also runs’ for the ‘Worst F1 car ever’ title, but we were in a class of our own. Undisputed champions, how’s that :)

Comments are closed.