Formula 1 is a sport that is all about speed. Building the fastest cars on the planet isn’t easy, but the engineers that work in Formula 1 are brilliant and they always find a way to make the cars incredibly fast. But over the years, which F1 era was the fastest?
The fastest era of Formula 1 was the 2014-2021 era. The late 2010s have seen many lap records broken by the modern generation. Cars from the early 2000s still hold a few lap records, and these cars certainly weren’t slow, with the fastest average race speed belonging to a 2003 car.
However, at the same time it’s difficult to compare different eras in Formula 1 because there are some factors that have an influence on the speed of the cars. In addition to that, top speed is not the only factor to consider in Formula 1, and we look at this in more detail below.
What Era Had The Fastest F1 Cars?
Defining the ‘fastest’ car is no simple task in Formula 1. Even if you have the outright top speed on the grid, you might still not have the fastest car over the course of a race. After all, Aston Martin had the highest recorded speed of the 2021 season at 224 miles per hour, yet they never won a race or did particularly well in qualifying.
Having the fastest car in Formula 1 means having a well-rounded car, not necessarily one that is a rocket ship down the straight or one that is on rails through the corners. The fastest Formula 1 car will be able to set the fastest lap.
However, there’s more to it than just a fastest lap. Different tracks have different characteristics, so while one car might be incredibly fast on one circuit, it could struggle at another.
Which Formula 1 Car Was The Most Dominant?
In order to determine which car was the best at different circuits, we’ll have to look back at which were the most dominant over a single season. While this does mean that the car is fast, it might not be the fastest Formula 1 car of all time.
The first period of dominance that springs to most people’s minds is the Schumacher era. The Ferrari F2004 won seven races in a row between the 2004 European Grand Prix and the 2004 Hungarian Grand Prix. Schumacher matched Alberto Ascari’s record, also set in a Ferrari in 1952.
However, that record was soon broken by Sebastian Vettel in his 2013 Red Bull RB9. The German youngster won an incredible nine races in a row, and that record stands to this day. It was the single most dominant car in the history of Formula 1, and it’s likely to remain that way for a long time. In addition, Vettel took 16 podiums and 13 wins in 19 races that same year.
Which Era Of F1 Was Fastest?
It’s always difficult to compare different eras in Formula 1. Formula 1 fans are always comparing new cars to old cars and new drivers to the previous generation. The truth is that it’s an unfair comparison to make, especially in a sport that evolves as much as Formula 1.
Unlike the majority of other sports out there, each era in Formula 1 is unique and you’ll never know for sure if Hamilton is better than Senna. You can’t compare Vettel to Fangio. It’s impossible to prove without putting the two in the same car on the same track – which is impossible itself!
Even then there are still variables at play. What if the car being used doesn’t suit one of their driving styles? What if the circuit they’re driving on doesn’t suit one of them? These might sound like excuses, but they are important factors to consider. The variety of driving styles you see on an F1 grid are part of what keep the sport so interesting and exciting to watch.
Each Era Has Different Rules
The first big question mark is the Formula 1 rulebook. Each year, the rules of Formula 1 are adapted and altered. In some cases, there can be a massive overhaul of the rules which can shake up the grid, like the engine regulation change in 2014 that passed the dominance from Red Bull over to Mercedes.
Each Era Is Unique
The rule changes go hand in hand with the fact that each era of Formula 1 is unique. Not only do the cars look different, but they handle differently as well.
In addition, we have also seen the introduction of the drag reduction system, which wasn’t present on any car before 2011. This is something that has only been around for a decade or so, but it gives the current generation of cars a distinct speed advantage over the older generations.
The Tires Used
Tires make a big difference in how fast a car can go. The biggest difference to consider is the contrast between slick and grooved tires. Slick tires gives the car more grip, allowing the driver to corner faster.
Slick tires are preferred in racing because they have a larger contact patch than tires with treads. In contrast, the groove in some older tires took rubber off the tarmac, which means that there was less grip available to the drivers. Ultimately, the more rubber that touches the tarmac at any time, the more grip you will have.
Formula 1 used grooved tires in the early 2000s when we saw some of the fastest Formula 1 cars in history. We’re not sure what kind of lap times they would have achieved with slick tires, but they would have been much faster, and so while tires are part of the car, they weren’t designed by the teams. We can only imagine how fast the F2004 would have been with slicks!
The Fastest Era For Formula 1
The fastest era for Formula 1 was between 2017 and 2021. During this time, we saw several speed records being broken. Many of these lap records were still standing from the Schumacher and Ferrari dominance in the mid-2000s. We even saw a new unofficial top speed set by Valtteri Bottas at 234 mph.
But why exactly were these cars so fast? There were several important rule changes implemented in 2017 that allowed F1 cars to go much faster. The first was that the cars would be made two meters wide, from 1.8 meters. This increase in width gave the cars more surface area, providing them with a significant increase in downforce and therefore cornering speed.
The hybrid engine had also been improved to produce 1000 horsepower. The wing elements were also streamlined to create less drag and therefore a higher top speed. On top of that, larger rear tires were bolted on that gave the cars much more grip.
Close Competition From The Early 2000s
The early 2000s was another incredible era for Formula 1. Between 2002 and 2005 we saw incredibly fast cars that set multiple lap records, some of which still stand today. The most notable car from this era was the Ferrari F2004.
These cars had the light but powerful V10 engines with traction control and ABS, allowing them to put the power down precisely and also stop on a dime. These two elements allowed the drivers to push their cars much harder than they otherwise would.
The aerodynamics of the mid 2000s Formula 1 cars may have been fairly simplistic, but they were effective. The cars produced very little drag which made them very fast. In fact, Juan-Pablo Montoya still holds the record for fastest official F1 car top speed at 231.5 miles per hour during testing in Monza in 2005. What’s more impressive is that there was no DRS back in those days!
What Was The Fastest Year For F1?
2020 was the fastest year for F1. The 1.6 liter V6 engines were at the peak of their development and the cars were fitted with various wings and bargeboard sections that gave them more downforce and therefore more grip. Several speed and lap records were broken during the 2020 season.
At the 2020 Italian Grand Prix qualifying, Lewis Hamilton set the fastest lap in Formula 1 history. What this means is that he broke the record for the highest average speed around a lap. He maintained an average speed of 164 miles per hour around the entire Monza circuit.
In 2020 and 2021 we saw several lap records being broken, even though they have stood for over a decade. We saw new lap records at the following tracks:
- Imola – Lewis Hamilton, 2020
- Portimao – Lewis Hamilton, 2020
- Barcelona – Max Verstappen, 2021
- Monaco – Lewis Hamilton, 2021
- Red Bull Ring – Carlos Sainz Jr, 2020
- Silverstone – Max Verstappen, 2020
- Hungaroring – Lewis Hamilton, 2020
- Zandvoort – Lewis Hamilton, 2021
- Mexico City – Valtteri Bottas, 2021
- Losail, Qatar – Max Verstappen, 2021
- Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – Lewis Hamilton, 2021
- Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi – Max Verstappen, 2021
That means that we saw a total of 12 lap records fall in the last two seasons alone. These were lap records that have been standing since the mid-2000s in the majority of cases, with previous cars being unable to beat them despite having slick tires, ERS and DRS.
This shows how incredibly fast the cars were in the mid-2000s and how fast they have become in the last two years. We saw similar results between 2020 and 2021 because there weren’t a lot of alterations made between the two seasons and most cars remained largely the same.
What Is The Fastest F1 Car Of All Time?
The fastest F1 car of all time is either the Mercedes W11 or the Ferrari F2004. Both of these cars were extremely dominant, and both set many lap and speed records at their respective times. However, the F2004, with slick tires, ERS and DRS, would most likely be faster than the W11.
The first car that springs to mind is the Ferrari F2004. It was one of the most dominant cars in the history of the sport, claiming 15 wins and 30 podiums in 20 races. This iconic car is considered by many to be the outright fastest F1 car ever built in the history of the sport.
It certainly is a mighty contender for the top spot of fastest Formula 1 car in history. If you put some slick tires on it and give it DRS and ERS, it could almost certainly be faster than today’s Formula 1 cars.
The F2004 was so quick because Ferrari put a lot of focus into giving it as much rear grip as possible. A new and improved chassis that was built to be extremely lightweight also helped the team a great deal. Michael Schumacher himself had a lot of input into the car, as did Jean Todt and Ross Brawn in what was considered a Formula 1 “dream team”.
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz W11 could easily contend for the title of fastest car in Formula 1 history too. Even though Mercedes had been dominating the sport ever since 2014, it was clear that the W11 was a different beast altogether.
Even with the delays of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was clear that right from the start of the 2020 season, this car was incredibly quick. The W11 claimed multiple lap records during the 2020 season, breaking several that had stood for almost two decades.
This car was dominant as well, claiming 13 race wins and 25 podiums in just 17 races, allowing Hamilton to clinch his 7th world Championship at the Turkish Grand Prix with 4 races to spare. The W11 is certain to go down in the history books of Formula 1.
Red Bull RB6
The Red Bull RB6, although not the most dominant Red Bull car ever built (that title belongs to the 2013 RB9) was an incredibly fast car. The RB9 was miles ahead of its competition, but the RB6 was claimed to be the car that produced the most downforce of any in the history of the sport.
In Formula 1, downforce is king. The 2010 season that featured the RB6 was one of the closest title fights in the sport, with four drivers in it for the title at the final race. However, this doesn’t mean that the RB6 wasn’t fast.
What was so impressive about the RB6 was its capabilities in high-speed corners. The RB6 had so much downforce that it was able to corner much faster than other cars, which you can clearly see from onboard video footage. The RB6 was able to take the Catalunya turn 9 flat out where even modern day F1 cars have to lift slightly!
Although the RB6 might still lose out to the W11 and the F2004 in terms of overall pace, it’s a worthy mention on this list for being the car that was able to find loopholes in the rules and become one of the highest downforces producing cars ever built.
2006 BAR Honda
If you’re looking for the car with the outright highest top speed in Formula 1 history, it’s a modified 2006 BAR Honda. The Honda team took one of their 2006 cars to the Bonneville salt flats in Utah. They removed the rear wing to reduce drag and set up the car for maximum top speed.
The Honda achieved a top speed of 246 miles per hour, and aside from the lack of a rear wing, the Honda team claimed that it was a fully legal car with all the FIA spec regulations in place. It was merely down to the set up and the removal of the rear wing that this speed was set, and it’s clearly much faster than was possible on a race track!
The fastest era of F1 was the 2020-2021 pair of seasons. While maybe not worthy of being called an “era,” these two years saw decades old lap records and speed records being broken. While the fastest top speed was set before these two seasons, the fastest average speed was set at Monza in 2020.