A new Formula One season is set to begin this weekend with the 2021 Bahrain GP. Will Lewis Hamilton win his eighth title? Can Red Bull upset Mercedes’ party? Can a year pass without tenuous links between F1 and road cars?
On that last point, it’s hard to get much cooler than an actual Formula 1 car but, sometimes, the wacky one-offs and special editions that come from the sport are almost as appealing. To help get you ready for the new season, here are some of the coolest F1 cars that aren’t actually F1 cars.
- Renault Espace F1
- Mercedes-AMG ONE
- Ford Transit Supervan 3
- Aston Martin Vantage F1 Edition
- Aston Martin DBX medical car
- Alfa Romeo 164 Procar
- Ferrari F50
- Honda NSX
- Jiotto Caspita
- Renaultsport Megane 230 F1 Team R26
1. Renault Espace F1
It wouldn’t be doing justice to the Renault Espace F1 if it wasn’t top of this list.
Back in 1995, Renault wanted to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Espace MPV, which conveniently was the same year that marked a decade of the French firm’s F1 involvement. Naturally, this led to a merging of the two.
Though it looked like the Espace of the time, sort of, underneath it couldn’t be further removed from the practical people carrier. It used a carbon fibre F1-style chassis and had a monstrous 3.5-litre, 800hp V10 engine ripped from the 1993 championship-winning Williams F1 car. The result was a Renault Espace capable of 0-60mph in 2.8 seconds and a 194mph top speed. It wasn’t road legal though, nor could it seat seven — so the regular Espace still had something over it.
2. Mercedes-AMG ONE
You often hear supercar manufacturers saying their latest concoction is an ‘F1 car for the road’ but, in the case of the Mercedes-AMG ONE, there’s legitimacy to that claim.
It’s been delayed a few times, but the ONE (yes, that’s its real name) looks like it’ll finally hit the roads (or more likely, collector’s garages) this year. It’s powered by a 1,000hp+ 1.6-litre plug-in hybrid V6 engine found in the F1 cars that have led Lewis Hamilton to his last six championships, albeit with a few tweaks to make sure it can manage supermarket car parks as well as Spa Francorchamps…
3. Ford Transit Supervan 3
Ford first made the Transit Supervan in 1971 — based on a Ford GT40 and using heavily modified Transit bodywork to create, well, a super van.
Another came in 1984, but it’s the third and final rendition of the Supervan that’s most of interest. Built in 1994, it used the same Group C race car chassis as Supervan 2, but with fresh bodywork to promote the then-new generation of the Transit. Supervan 3’s party piece was a Cosworth HB engine ‘borrowed’ from an unsuspecting McLaren F1 car.
It was used for promotional bits up until 2001, before making a final appearance in Royal Mail livery to celebrate Ford’s new contract to supply vans to the service. It’s a shame Postman Pat didn’t get a look in, though…
4. Aston Martin Vantage F1 Edition
For 2021, F1 will break a long run of exclusively using Mercedes cars as its official safety car — now alternating the Mercedes-AMG GT R with the Aston Martin Vantage.
To celebrate, Aston has introduced a range-topping version of the Vantage called, not surprisingly, the F1 Edition. It mimics the safety car you’ll see in a number of Grands Prix throughout the 2021 season and gets a bump in power, some chassis tweaks and altered aerodynamics — including a new rear wing perched on the bootlid. Yours for £142,000.
5. Aston Martin DBX medical car
Following the pack when the Vantage safety car leads it on the formation lap will be the Aston Martin DBX medical car. Unlike the Vantage, it doesn’t get a special road-going edition or any performance upgrades, but its 550hp V8 engine means it’s still pretty punchy.
It’ll need that grunt because it’s responsible for carrying a medical bag, a defibrillator, fire extinguishers and a burn kit. Hopefully, you won’t see it in action beyond the formation lap and it’ll remain a pretty cool pit lane ornament.
6. Alfa Romeo 164 Procar
Hiding under the bodywork of this boxy Alfa Romeo saloon is a bit of an unexpected treat. Back in 1988, a ‘Procar’ series set to run as a support race to F1 was in the works — seeing ballistic touring cars competing as an appetiser for the main event.
A lack of interest from manufacturers meant the series never happened, though Alfa Romeo did build a prospective Procar entry. The 164 Procar looks like a racy version of the saloon and plays host to a 3.5-litre V10 engine that was used by the Ligier F1 team. It produces 630hp and would help the 164 Procar hit 211mph.
What a crying shame it is that it never took off as a racing series, then, eh?
7. Ferrari F50
The Mercedes-AMG ONE isn’t the first road car to us an F1-derived engine – Ferrari was busy bolting in an F1-bred V12 into its F50 back in the nineties.
Its 4.7-litre V12 engine was sourced from the Ferrari 641 which competed in the 1990 Formula One season, albeit with a huge number of changes to make it roadworthy. That meant a much lower rev limit, more weight and less power.
The Ferrari F50 was no slouch, though. It still has 512hp, would do 0-60mph in about 2.5 seconds and could hit 202mph. All without you needing to have the skills of Alain Prost to keep it pointing in a straight line.
8. Honda NSX
Arguably Japan’s first real supercar, the Honda NSX came along in 1990 as a Ferrari rival that didn’t carry the price tag or constant fear of it disassembling itself if you drove more than 16 miles a year in it.
This mid-engined Japanese icon featured a 3.0-litre V6 that, officially at least, had 274hp. In truth, it probably pumped out quite a bit more power – an agreement between carmakers in Japan meant none of them would quote power figures greater than that, even if it was a bit of a fib.
What’s the F1 connection, then? Well, the legendary Ayrton Senna helped develop the car. He was racing for McLaren at the time, which used Honda engines, and is credited for making the NSX chassis as good as it is.
9. Jiotto Caspita
You’ll be forgiven for never hearing of the Jiotto Caspita. You’ll also be forgiven for having no idea that Subaru once tried its hand in Formula One.
Yes, the builder of trusty farm-friendly 4x4s and forest-storming rally cars once built a flat-12 engine to race in F1 in 1990, and even bought the Coloni F1 team. This enterprise was, frankly, a disaster. The engine was dreadful, the car weighed far too much and ultimately it never qualified for a race. Subaru sold Coloni in June that year, and the team abandoned the engine.
While this was all happening, supercar manufacturer Dome was preparing for production of the Jiotto Caspita supercar. It was supposed to use the Subaru F1 engine, but its disastrous race performance left the whole thing coming to a halt and the Caspita without an engine. It never made it to the roads.
10. Renaultsport Megane 230 F1 Team R26
How do you celebrate winning a Formula One title? Well, if you’re Renault in 2006, you build the Renaultsport Megane 230 F1 Team R26.
Had time to catch your breath reading that? Cool. Renault wanted to honour its F1 efforts with a road car and decided to make a beefed-up version of the hit Megane RS. Thus, the Megane R26 was born — named after the championship-winning F1 car, and getting appropriate performance improvements.
Power was bumped up to 230hp, a limited-slip differential was fitted to help it manage the way it sent its grunt to the road and it got some visual tweaks to make sure the world knew you weren’t in any regular Megane. It’s come on to be one of the most sought-after modern hatches.
11. Fiat Seicento Sporting Michael Schumacher Edition
Picture the scene. It’s the year 2000, the world hasn’t collapsed from the Y2K fears, you’re playing Snake on your mobile and Michael Schumacher has just won his third of what would prove to be seven F1 titles.
You’re a Schumacher superfan, and you want the world to know it. You can’t afford to buy the new Ferrari 360 Modena and slap a livery on it though, so what do you do?
You get the Fiat Seicento Sporting Michael Schumacher Edition. Naturally. No, it didn’t get a Ferrari F1 engine or some crazy aerodynamic gubbins, rather a slightly sporty bodykit, anti-lock brakes and a sticker of Schumacher’s signature on the boot. Oh, this feature said ‘coolest’ in the title, didn’t it? Oops…
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