5 of the weirdest F1 car designs of all time

16/11/2016 09:14:53

F1 engineering is a complicated business. Every year, the fans and the drivers expect cars that go faster than ever before, and development is a constant arms race to see who can come up with the most innovative solutions while staying within the rules.

But every so often, teams come up with technological solutions that are just bizarre. Some of these weird and wonderful innovations work, some are quickly consigned to the junkyard. But they show just how F1 engineers think outside the box and try to come up with new ways of doing things.

Here are five of the weirdest designs that ever took to the track.

the Fan Car - Brabham BT46B

One of the most famous - if short-lived - designs of the 1970s, the Brabham BT46B's most distinctive feature was the huge fan sticking out of the back.

But - despite what the team claimed - this wasn't to help with cooling. Instead, it sought to take advantage of 'ground effect' - a quirk of aerodynamics that increases downforce by reducing air pressure under the body of the car. What the fan did was ferociously suck out air from under the car, creating so much downforce the car was practically glued to the track.

The effect was dramatic. In its first race at the 1978 Swedish Grand Prix, the car was in a class of its own on a slippery track, with driver Niki Lauda winning by more than 30 seconds. However, other teams furiously protested, and although the win stood, the design was quickly declared illegal, so it never raced again.

the Tray - March 711

Aerodynamics are hard to get right, and in the early days of their development, there was a lot of trial and error to see what worked, leading engineers to try some pretty striking designs. And one of the strangest so far has been the 1971 March 711.

At the front, the car had a flat, oval wing that was unusually positioned high above its nose, drawing comparisons to a surfboard, or a waiter holding up a tray. It might have looked basic, but it was surprisingly effective. It never won a race, but in the hands of Ronnie Peterson, it picked up five podiums, taking him to second in the driver's standings that year.

the Six-wheeler - Tyrrell P34

For all the complex rules of what you can and can't do with an F1 car, it might seem surprising that for a long time, there was no rule that said a car had to have four wheels. And this was a loophole that Tyrrell happily exploited in 1976 with its P34. At the back, it looked like pretty much any other F1 car, but at the front, it boasted two axles supporting four tiny ten-inch wheels.

The idea was to make the wheels small enough to hide completely behind the front wing, providing less drag and therefore higher speeds on the straights. The problem with this was the wheel proved too small to give effective cornering or braking performance - so the solution was simply to add some more.

The P34 proved to be relatively successful, competing in 30 races in the 1976 and 1977 seasons, and recording one win for Jody Scheckter. However, it proved a complicated system to design and develop, so was eventually dropped in favor of a more traditional solution.

the Stepladder - Ensign N179

Not all weird innovations end up being successful, and one of the least competitive cars of the late 70s was Ensign's N179 - often cited as the ugliest car ever to compete in F1.

Mostly, this was due to the large radiator grilles that were placed in the nose rather than the more usual side-pods, with the intention of giving the car a more streamlined design. However, what it actually did was make the car look as if someone had bolted a stepladder to the front.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, having the radiator and oil cooler so far from the engine led to serious overheating problems. The idea was quickly axed, but it didn't help Ensign's fortunes - seven failures to qualify, three retirements, one finish and no points was the N179's return for the season.

the X-Wing - Tyrrell 025

The most recent entry on our list - from Tyrrell again - the 1997 025 raced at a time when F1 was going through an aerodynamics revolution, with engineers looking to bolt on extra winglets wherever they could find a space.

One of the first teams to go all-in on this was Tyrrell, which introduced a pair of winglets sticking up on huge stalks from the chassis at a 45-degree angle, in order to grab every bit of downforce possible. It was certainly a striking solution, giving rise to comparisons to Star Wars' famous X-Wing fighter.

These helped the underpowered Tyrrell into the points at high-downforce circuits like Monaco and led to many other teams trying out similar winglets, before a presumably fed-up FIA banned the lot of them the following year on safety grounds.