Top 12 Most Dominant Formula One Cars

Every once in a while, an F1 team produces something different. A car that is so great, it cannot even be termed competitive.They were simply to good. Some dominated for just a season, whilst others remained and were developed for years. 

Formula One is sports automated gift to mankind. Heroes from all populated continents have competed in some spectacular machinery over the years. Remarkable designers and architects of cars have bred some creative and awe-inspiring initiatives. The challenge for engineers to work their way around the rules and regulations has been a constantly fascinating journey. Some innovations were so ingenious that scrutineers failed to nullify any unwanted loopholes found by teams. Some names that have emerged over the decades have helped create Formula One into the household name it is today. Here are the top twelve most dominant cars in Formula One.

Note to readers*

Please also take note that the cars chosen are not chosen in relation to aesthetics or popularity, but merely their dominance ALONE. I do plan on writing an “official” Top 12 that takes all spheres of F1 into account. Please take further consideration into account that as this is a CLASSIC piece, the latest car is the F2002. Obviously there have been some since. i.e. The Red Bull epoch, and now…the wrath of the Mercedes.

The list I have compiled is not listed in any particular order of preference, but rather in order of the respective eras they raced in. This is a personal opinion and any information that is incorrect has not been altered by design. Any information that is incorrect can be politely stated in the comments below, and I will see to it that mistakes are corrected. Mostly, please ENJOY!


Alfa Romeo 158/159

During Formula 1’s most juvenile years, the sport was an unrefined league of racing, driven by pilots and brutes. The lack of any version of safety never rattled their nerves. With hay bales often being their only salvation during a shunt, still they persevered and drove on. A classic image of 1950’s F1 is characterised by tight cotton T-shirts, leather skullcaps accompanied by fighter pilot goggles and no form of anything with a safety purpose.

The Alfa Romeo 158 was a romantic start to Italy’s love affair with Formula 1. Though it competed 41 races in its history, the Alfa only entered a modest 13 Grands Prix in F1. Its long, crimson cigar-like appearance emphasized the simplicity of design during this era along with its skinny front and rear tyres which were comparable to biscuits you could dunk in your tea. It all just seemed so fragile. The 1.5 litre, flat 8 supercharged engines took its performance and triumph to never before seen heights of success in racing. Driven by “The Maestro”, Jean-Manuel Fangio, the 158 was a race car to be envied by many a driver. Ironically it had been designed as a pre-war race car, first competing as early as 1938. Ahead of its time by 13 years, Fangio won his inaugural Drivers Championship at the wheel of this very car in 1952.

Races 13 Formula One Grands Prix (41)†
Wins 10 Formula One Wins (37†)
Poles 10
Fastest Laps 13
Non Formula One events

T12 Alfa 158


Lotus Ford-Cosworth 49

The 60’s was an era marked by contrast. Its dark side was tainted with death and risk whilst being paralleled by a wealth of successful talent and innovation. British Motorsport was in its premature junctures and was only just on its way to cementing itself into the annals of motorsport history.

This journey was led by the visionary Colin Chapman, owner of Team Lotus, along with the group’s protégé, Jim Clark. Chapman’s advanced and time changing designs precipitated the

Lotus 49 – a car that would be developed for over three seasons. The British designer’s unique eye for the creative interpretation of rules and regulations, along with his keen interest and background in aviation introduced some quite spellbinding designs that would pave the way to Formula One’s aerodynamic future. It’s secret to success was Chapman’s relationship with the Ford-Cosworth company, who designed an engine specifically to the parameters of the car. This was an integral step forward that solidified a number of wins and points for the Lotus family.

Races 46 †
Wins 12
Poles 19
Fastest Laps 12
Subject available to change due to inconsistent data

T12 Lotus 49


Lotus Ford-Cosworth 72d

A time when racing was dangerous and sex was safe. The 70’s was a period that reflected technical innovation. The twilight of the 60’s lent itself as the prologue to what developments were to come. Cars no longer kept to their traditional racing colours, but were rather dressed in sponsor’s logos and shades. This new era sported change in almost every sphere – political, financial and safety.

The Lotus 72 was yet another breech into the future of Formula One. Ahead of its time, the car was developed for over half a decade. The black and gold colour scheme of the type 72 became synonymous with Formula One for years to come. Its sleek and stealthy appearance was betrayed by its loud rise to success. Colin Chapman chose to alter the traditional tubular structure that had been used in F1 since the sports conception. He adopted a wedge-like shape over utilising the more conventional rounded approach. This encouraged airflow over the car, and when put in a back-to-back test with its predecessor the Lotus 49, it was a convincing 14kph faster. Futuristic adaptations to the wings and suspension aided to its success.  Its noticeable drivers included Super Swede Ronnie Peterson, posthumous champion Jochen Rindt and the then youngest ever world champion of the time Emerson Fittipaldi.

Races 75
Wins 20
Poles 17
Fastest Laps 9

Winner Ronnie Peterson(SWE) Lotus 72EFrench GP, Dijon Prenois, 7 July 1974


Tyrrell Ford-Cosworth 003

The success of Lotus was aimed to be mirrored by Ken Tyrrell. In fact, his emulation of their rival team was a spitting image of Lotus’ triumph. Both Ken Tyrrell and Colin Chapman were involved in the Royal Air Force and both founded their own racing teams. These are fairly normal coincidences, but so did they employ two Scottish drivers, Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart respectively which both went on to win driver’s titles at their particular teams. These two racers also formed lasting unshakable friendships with their bosses.

Unlike many successful cars of the era, the Tyrrell 003 was only a once off design that was developed for just over a single season. It was the remnants of the Tyrrell 001, fitted with a modified nose, more slender monocoque and longer wheel base. The car was designed in total secrecy at Ken Tyrrell’s own home – a venture that cost him £22 000 of his own money. The 003 was in constant competition with the advanced Lotus 72. Stewart won his second title in 1971 with the 003. His third and final title came in 1973, a feat that later became a valuable credential that would allow him to receive knighthood from her mjesty.

Races 16
Wins 8
Poles 6
Fastest Laps 5

T12 Tyrrell 003 2


McLaren Ford-Cosworth M23

James Hunt was a peculiar man. Foie gras, cigarettes and booze with a blend of his provocative nature and party lifestyle all proved to be an unlikely but worthy combination to win a world championship. Any other decade of the 20th century wouldn’t have suited the boyish Briton.

Albeit the lavish lifestyle aside, Hunt needed the car to win his first and only championship.

The M26 was McLaren’s weapon of choice to take the challenge to Ferrari’s technical driving wizard, Niki Lauda, but after dismal performances the team shortly decided to continue the development of their previous M23 car. Surprisingly, the M23 was an evolution of the McLaren M16 Indy 500 car.  The machinery had its work cut out as throughout the 76’ season it seemed to be the underdog, forever being scrutinised by their arch nemesis, Ferrari. Though it wasn’t a sophisticated car, many developments secured its ability to win. It carried an extra sixth gear, superior aero package and housed a compressed-air starter system as part of their weight saving programme. Point deductions and penalties that Hunt often received that year are still speculated today. In fact, that season has been recreated today as a Hollywood blockbuster film with a cast of A-list actors.

Races 83
Wins 16
Poles 14
Fastest Laps 10

T12 Mclaren M23


Williams Ford-Cosworth FW07

Possibly the most renowned British name in motorsport, Frank Williams along with his friend and ally, Patrick Head helped run a Formula One engineering project. Entering in 1977 for their first Grand Prix start, Williams and Head received the team’s first drivers and constructer’s title with Alan Jones three years later in 1980.

After learning from the tribulations and challenges of the new aerodynamic world of Formula One, the FW07 was somewhat of a spinoff of the Lotus 79, making its emphasis on ground effect – a phenomenon where placing skits on either side of the breadth of the car and the addition of an “upside-down wing” on the floor helps create a substantial amount of downforce. It was Alan Jones who won Williams ‘first drivers title, and became the second Australian to win a drivers championship in Formula One. The Championship wins that season (drivers and constructors) set forth a winning tone that would help Williams to further triumphs over the next 17 years.

Races 43
Wins 15
Poles 8
Fastest Laps 15

T12 FW07


Brabham Ford BT49

Nelson Piquet drove to three world drivers’ titles, all of which were dedicated to no one but himself as he put it quite bluntly in an interview some years ago. His argument was that he was the driver who won the races, and not the engineers and pit crew that surrounded him. The Brazilian renegade finished the championship with success behind the wheel of his Cosworth powered Brabham. After 1967, Brabham faced a 14 year absence of a championship win.

The BT49 was designed and developed over the course of four years by South Africa’s, Gordon Murray. Its likeness took a mere 6 weeks to design. Its predecessor, the BT48 was less successful where team owner Bernie Ecclestone was in partnership with Alfa Romeo, which soon entered their own works team. Unimpressed and resistant to playing second fiddle to Alfa, Bernie wished to take his ventures to Cosworth engines. A series of new introductions to the BT49 came to the fore. F1 in the ‘80s was now moving into the carbon composite field and the car was made at a lighter weight than in previous years. The most inventive addition to the car was Murray’s hydropneumatic suspension system. Due to the banning of side skirts and a minimum ride height of 60 mm above the asphalt, the suspension design meant that the car rested on soft air springs that would keep it in check with regulations when stationary, but would squat to below the required 60mm at speed. The design was ingenious and the true ride height remained elusive to scrutinizers.

Races 36 (2)†
Wins 7
Poles 6 (1)†
Fastest Laps 4
† Non Championship Events

T12 Brabham f


McLaren Honda MP4/4

Speed, torque, horse power and ever present danger seemed almost out of control in the 80’s.  The sinister turbo era was at the end of its ferocious life. The epoch of these engines instilled thrill and fear into driver, engineer and fan. Turbo cars of the ‘80s reached up to 1400bhp in qualifying – almost double what our cars can achieve today.

The McLaren MP4/4 was arguably McLaren’s most successful car to date. The team was home to one of the biggest in-house rivalries in history. In fact, even in present times it is one of the most reputable but deadliest rivalries in all of sport. It was this clash where Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost duelled on track in their respective Honda powered cars. Ironically it was the Frenchman himself who suggest that a young Ayrton Senna join the team for a three years stint. Once again, the McLarens were under the supervision of South Africa’s Gordon Murray. The MP4/4 was renowned for its sleek aerodynamic profile, but in order to cope with regulations to safeguard driver safety, McLaren utilised an all new drivers seating position. Instead of the traditional upright location, Prost and Senna sat in a lay down position – a design that is still an integral part of modern Formula One today

The MP4/4 won all but one race in 1988.

Races 16
Wins 15
Poles 15
Fastest Laps 10

T12 Mclaren mp4.4


Williams Renault FW14B

Mel Gibson appears in his third Lethal Weapon film, Michael Jackson’s Black or White reaches the top of the Billboard charts and Windows 3.1 was released which saw humanity thrown into the technology revolution. Email and internet were strange and foreign words in a world that never previously relied on computers. 1992 was an interesting year for all. The FW14B paid special tribute to the computing innovations of the time.

Under the bodywork was an organised chaos of computer controlled hydraulic hard and software, traction control, a semi-automatic gearbox, active suspension, anti-lock brakes and electronic engine management. Hydraulic actuators were fitted around the perimeters of the car, constantly taking in an array of data about the driver’s technique and the cars attitude on the tarmac. This was done thousands of times a second. The on-board computer subsequently controlled suspension and decided how much it needed to compensate for bumps and divots that littered the road below. The gap between car and asphalt was kept at 6cm at all times. The Williams was a massive success and won Nigel Mansell his inaugural title. The continuation of the FW14B manifested itself in another successful FW15 in 1993 – the year Alain Prost scored his final championship.

Races 32
Wins 17
Poles 21
Fastest Laps 19

T12 FW 14B F


Benetton Renault B195

Yet another predominant South African designer made his blue and white mark on Formula One with the likeness of the Benetton Renault B195. Although Rory Byrne developed the car, comments on its performance said the Benetton was dismal. After some negative feedback from drivers and engineers it became a surprising and regular victor of the 1995 season. The image of its year reflects a Cinderella-like story as after a less than perfect start, by the end of the season it was evident at just how fierce this car had become.

After the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994, a series of minimum requirements and racing provisions was set forth by the FIA, with a particular emphasis on stronger and more reliable crash protection.  Furthermore, in an effort to slow the cars down, smaller wings were introduced as well as a reduced engine capacity from 3.5 litre to 3.0 litre.  Ironically, the car’s handling was not in sync with how dominant it looked in its stats. Throughout the 1995 season, Schumacher made himself notorious in colliding with his fellow rivals. Not only had this been a part of his arsenal, but Hill’s mistakes at crucial points of the season also aided Benetton’s success. When Gerhard Burger was introduced to the [then] British outfit, he complained of poor handling. Schumacher later and famously put it “If he had driven the car at the beginning of the season, he would have spun in the pit-lane!”

Races 17
Wins 10
Poles 4
Fastest Laps 8

T12 Benetton 195


Williams Renault FW18

The 13th of October 1996 will forever be a prominent milestone in Formula One. Britain’s Damon Hill emulated his father’s success of becoming a championship winner. He became the first son of a former champion to win his very own title. Finishing just less than two seconds ahead of Michael Schumacher and with the retirement during the race of team mate Jacques Villeneuve was enough for him to secure the title.

The FW18 was Adrian Newey’s penultimate title winning Williams car before he made his new office in Woking for rivals McLaren.  The Williams was almost a mirror image of its predecessor, the FW17 only to have the addition of further driver protection. By this time Newey had become illustrious for creating small, compressed cockpits. The drivers sat lower than ever before. The low centre of gravity made the car responsive and had a predictable to read on track.  Another ace card that the FW18 held was its reliability. Completing 1778 laps of a maximum 2028, the Williams’ were the most reliable. This feat was a far cry for any other team to attain that season.

Races 16
Wins 12
Poles 12
Fastest Laps 11


T12 FW18


McLaren Mercedes MP4 13

Adrian Newey, the brainchild of modern aerodynamics and car packaging had become the last word in Formula One. He was both envied and sought after by his rivals. His seven year stint at Williams reaped 59 race victories, 78 pole positions and 60 fastest laps from just 114 races.

The McLaren MP4 13 was Newey’s first attempt at designing for the men in silver. The car left the rest of the field in its wake after the first Grand Prix in Australia thanks to a combination of Adrian’s design and the Mercedes powered engines. Though Ferrari seemed to be title contenders, it was never convincing enough. Reliability did hinder McLaren’s fight, but even with seven retirements collectively between drivers Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard, the Woking team pushed on like a speeding freight train.  Newey’s keen attention to aerodynamic grip rather than mechanical ushered the cars to become superior to any other on the grid. With more speedy and free flowing circuits than slow and methodological on the ’95 calendar, the MP4 13 was unstoppable, even with consistency issues.

Races 16
Wins 9
Poles 12
Fastest Laps 9

T12 MP4 13 F


Ferrari F2002

Michael Schumacher. Ferrari. Two names synonymous to each other and the Formula One brand. Bathed in each other’s success, their story of  triumph and glory will remain to be one of the greatest partnerships in sporting history. Michael joined the team in 1996 as a two time world champ at the tender age of 27. It seemed as though the two forces were kindred spirits to one another. Their tenacity and will to win was stronger than any other combination on the grid. Ferrari and Michael scored their maiden title together in 2000. Four more were to be scored.

Thanks to a perfected centre of gravity, an all-new power steering system and the Divine talents of Michael Schumacher, the F2002 was catapulted into its own unique dimension of dominance. By the 11th round, Schumacher had set a blistering record of which he won the title with six races to go on the calendar. Together with second string Rubens Barrichello, the points scored between the two equalled the cumulative score of all other teams 2002.

Races 19
Wins 15
Poles 11
Fastest Laps 15

T12 F2002 F

***                                                                                             ***                                                                                           ***

Credit for images  (2)  (2)  (2) (2)


About dphansen24

I am an avid freelance Formula 1 writer and blogger. My writings are diverse and range from historical insights, to thorough and exciting analysis of the modern era and the topics that come with it. I am also able to take in requests from readers that wish to gain vision into particular stories. All are welcome. I encourage constructive criticism and conversation in comments or via email. My passion for the world’s fastest show consumes my daily efforts and I am always enthused to write about the sport I love most. Even as a pundit, I too have a curiosity and am always ready to learn more about an ever expanding sport.

Posted on January 17, 2015, in Historics, Original Pieces and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Could you elaborate more on your thoughts on both the Alfa 158, and on “The Maestro” (JM Fangio) and his achievements? I have heard that name being bandied about many a bridge-club meeting ,but my knowledge of him and his motorcar is somewhat limited. Could you provide some food for thought perhaps? It would be much appreciated!

    • Yes of course ! I can get a brief piece together for you if you would like. Fangio drove many a great and respected car, much like the Maserati 250F as mentioned in a comment on Facebook. I will try and get something short but juicy together for you. All the best

  2. The Ferrari from 89-90 is still the most beautiful car of all times, not the best, not the fastest (although in 90….) but the most beautiful

  3. Hi @dphansen24 – that would be fantastic! I’m contemplating drawing up a “timeline” of sorts regarding El Maestro’s career. From what I’ve heard, he really was a “mover and shaker” in Formula One circles (circa 1950). Your insights would be greatly appreciated!
    Fondest regards

    • Hi there Clyde. I’ve put up a small piece on “The Maestro”. Unfortunately there is no real juicy info on his cars, but that can be for a separate piece for you. I hope you enjoy !

  4. Where’s the Vanwall or the Merc W196?

    • The first plan was to make a top 10, but with ut seemed too limited. So i made a top 12 choice with slightly abstract reason and not just the cliche’ ones. Those were both great cars though – the merc in particular !

  5. Clyde Garcia

    Good day,

    I have only recently returned to the domain “cyber space” and only came across your January comments this afternoon @dphansen24. What a blither !
    Anywho, thank you for coming up with a piece on the “Maesto”. Where exactly could I find this piece? (As you’re sure to have noticed, my ailing memory tends to elude me from time to time).

    Nonetheless, keep up the good work!

    Keenest regards,


    • Clyde, fantastic to hear from you!

      The piece on Fangio is called “The Man Who Became ‘The Maestro'”. Here is the link.
      Also, as you seem keen on F1’s dazzeling history, here is the link to my histroy tab on my site.

      I really appreciate your comments, and I am even more glad that you enjoy my pieces. Once again, if you have any requests, I would be more than willing to put one together for you.
      Is there an email address I can contact you through?

      Many regards!


  6. Hi
    Small point but the Williams FW 14B didn’t have A.B.S. the 15 C did from Magny Cours I think my memory is a bit vague after 22 years.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: