Ranking the Top 10 Retro Formula 1 Overalls

Scott MitchellContributor ISeptember 27, 2013

Ranking the Top 10 Retro Formula 1 Overalls

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    As slick, professional and safe race suits are these days, there seems to me to be a lack of identity behind the overalls of modern Formula One.

    Given the large budgets and high levels of team dependency that seem to characterise the sport these days, it's understandable that recognisable team apparel has become a prerequisite of F1 racing.

    Of course, throughout the years a team has always been distinguishable from its rivals in one way or another, whether it be through using the racing colours of its country of origin, sponsorship or team clothing.

    So, while overalls may have become cooler (and let's face it, they have done a stellar job at mating safety with style and comfort), here's a throwback to times of simpler constructions and simpler designs.

    Less, as they say, can often be more.

10: The Very Yellow Camel Design

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    Senna was one of many yellow Camels
    Senna was one of many yellow Camels

    One of F1's most iconic liveries in terms of the cars that have graced the sport is certainly the Camel Lotus, one of many made famous by Ayrton Senna.

    Maybe it is just me, but that all-yellow design didn't translate quite as beautifully to a race suit. That's not to say drivers were made to look like walking lemons, but it was more of a Marmite mustard yellow (you either loved it or you hated it).

    I like it. It's simple, and it's very different. What's more, it transcends team identification because of its affiliation with more than one team. 

9: Lotus' '68 Trim

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    1968 changed everything for F1. Well, at least in terms of car liveries.

    That was the year Lotus introduced its Gold Leaf sponsorship and with that came a strikingly beautiful new design for its car.

    And, along with that, came a rather smart overall design for its drivers. White was usually the colour of choice back then, though Lotus added something a little extra to it just to make it stand out.

    The red trim along the sleeve might not seem like much but it's a damn sight nicer than plain white. That's reserved these days for drivers who still have sponsorship restrictions when they change teams, but back then plain was the norm.

    A few years prior to this design Jim Clark was resplendent in a white suit with red, yellow and blue pinstripes which ran along different parts of the suit.

    It was a tough choice between those and the '68 design, but ultimate black-and-white photos scupper the '63 designs chances. And these are cool suits, though, even though it was different in a rather minor way.

8: Benetton's Fashion Prowess

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    '95 Benetton suit was rather dashing
    '95 Benetton suit was rather dashing

    Being owned by the founder of one of the world’s greatest fashion companies, you might expect Benetton to be a dab hand at creating smart-looking overalls.

    Though its tri-coloured cars of the late 80s looked cool, the race suits were an abomination. Very rarely does green look good, and it didn’t on the unfortunate Alessandro Nannini. It was both a great and horrid sight whenever the Italian was on the podium.

    However, the switch to the light blue, Mild Seven-inspired design gave them much more to work with and in 1995, when the shade of blue was a touch darker, they hit the nail on the head.

    Blue is excellent, have I made that clear enough so far? And it’s hard to argue that the dash of yellow didn't make this a particularly lovely looking race suit.

7: Hunt's Inimitable Style

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    Hunt's choice of overall badges were superb
    Hunt's choice of overall badges were superb

    Given James Hunt raced during a time when the cars looked incredible but the overalls were hardly making too many fashion statements, it's a testament to his character and his profile that he made so many race suits recognisable.

    During his time at McLaren, wearing the famous Marlboro red, he even looked ridiculously cool in those rather lumpy, generally plain overalls.

    One of the most distinguishable features of a Hunt race suit though was his infamous badge, which read "Sex: Breakfast of champions".

    This was typical Hunt, and (typically) makes it very difficult to find a picture. So chalk No. 8 on this list down to Hunt's own inimitable style, rather than any particular overall design.

6: Mansell's Title-Winning Design

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    Mansell's Labatt overalls were the best of blue
    Mansell's Labatt overalls were the best of blue

    Many people remember the iconic Williams-Renaults and think “ah, Rothmans/Camel!” But it was a Canadian brewing company that featured most prominently on Nigel Mansell’s great 1992 overalls.

    The Labatt’s-backed Birmingham lad (who had been sponsored by the company for longer than '92) had a two-tone race suit during his title-winning campaign. As this was during the peak of F1’s ‘stick as many things to the overalls as you possibly can’ phase, the Brit’s sleeves were rather ‘busy’.

    But the blue base colour and darker backing for the main logo on the chest and sleeves were a cool combination, and it certainly did him no harm on the track.

    Now, what was that about Rothmans?

5: Rothmans Beauty

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    The Rothmans Williams are part of F1 history
    The Rothmans Williams are part of F1 history

    Ah, yes, that's right. The undeniable brilliance of the Williams-Rothmans alliance. 

    As aforementioned in the previous Mansell-based slide, there's something to be said for simplicity at a time when F1 overalls were becoming maxed out for space by sponsors logos.

    As such, the Williams/Renault/Rothmans liveries (for both car and driver) were a stroke of aesthetic genius.

    You'll see very swiftly this writer as a soft spot for blue and white and that (allied with the Rothmans trim) makes for a very cool looking pair of overalls. 

Brabham's Blue and White

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    Brabham designs were simple but beautiful
    Brabham designs were simple but beautiful

    Three in a row, I'm getting predictable. We must change that soon. But for now, let's admire this bit of Brabham brilliance.

    Much like the team did with its cars, Brabham race suits in the 1980s had a consistent design which made beautiful use of the combination of blue and white.

    Hardly among F1’s most intricate of colour palettes, the Parmalat Brabhams are among the very finest images and memories in F1 archives.

    Such was the popularity of the colour scheme that even when Paramalat left the team, it still retain that blue and white combination.

    That resulted in no finer a race suit than the 1985 Olivetti design. Look at the picture above, and you may well be looking at the inspiration for the Williams-BMW design of the early noughties.

3: Marvellous McLaren Red

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    McLaren-Honda improved the all-red design
    McLaren-Honda improved the all-red design

    It's not difficult to get a red suit right, and F1 had Ferrari to thank for that. 

    The Marlboro McLarens were made famous by a variety of people but it was not until the early 1990s, when overalls were becoming less-obviously thick, that the red suits worn by McLaren drivers started to look truly appealing.

    In this instance, McLaren was greatly aided by Honda (and no, that's not just the partnership's on-track success).

    Splashing the white backing for the Honda logo on the front gave the suit something extra and, given it was already well on its way to being a part of this list, just nudges it up a bit higher.

2: This Martini's Second, Not Third

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    Martini stripes make anything look good
    Martini stripes make anything look good

    Terrible James Bond pun aside, there are several good reasons for putting this very simple Martini Brabham race suit so high up this list.

    F1 in the 1970s was at a stage aesthetically whereby white was considered sufficient for a race suit. In fact, you could probably have gotten away with interchanging suits (with a bit of nous required to sew on badges of course).

    As such, Carlos Pace and Carlos Reutemann must have been quietly pleased with their Martini stripe-inspired overalls.

    While it did not set the world on fire, this design is a total motorsport legend. It's difficult to think of any category within the sport where a Martini-liveried car does not rank in the top 10 of the most beautiful cars in history.

    As such, it was a brilliant idea for that season (when the Brabham base colour was a gorgeous red over white) to intricate the tradtional white base, Martini strip design into the overalls. I'd wear them now. 

1: Senna's Simplicity

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    Senna's Nacional suit was wonderfully simple
    Senna's Nacional suit was wonderfully simple

    Modern day overalls are stunning, but lack identity. That's my biggest gripe. Admittedly, it's much easier/automatic to work out what team the driver races for.

    Still, if you removed the name/flags on the overall belt, would you know Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull race suit from Mark Webber's? Probably not.

    But I'd wager if there was a picture of black overalls, with a bit of gold, the JPS logo emblazoned at the top and 'Nacional' across the chest, you'd be able to guess in a heartbeat.

    Senna's Lotus suit does something for me. It's predominantly black, for a start, which looks cool. But the trim makes it stand out more, gives it an edge.

    The Nacional logo splashed across the front makes it clear who the driver is, too, and also white fits in very nicely alongside the black and gold.

    Put simply, anyone could wear this, not just the legendary Brazilian, and it'd still be number one. A great design.