The new Renaultsport Megane Red Bull Racing RB8 featured recently isn’t the first, and is unlikely to be the last, road car linked to a Formula 1 racer. Here are five more with varying levels of motorsport credibility.
1. 2001 Fiat Seicento Sporting Schumacher Edition
Way back at the turn of the century, there was a German who dominated Formula 1, by winning championship after championship with consummate ease. He was also a little bit smug about it all. Sound familiar?
However, unlike Sebastian Vettel’s Infiniti FX50, back in 2001 Fiat had something slightly slower in mind for Michael Schumacher to celebrate his on-track Ferrari F1 successes. Yes, a 1.1 litre city-car packing a massive 54 bhp. This was enough to give 0-60 mph in 13.1 seconds, and a dizzying top speed of 93 mph. Hardly Grand Prix levels of performance.
But, it was cheap to run, offering up 43 mpg and group 4 insurance. It also came with a host of extra features such as sports seats, front fog lights and alloy wheels. Oh, and that big Schumacher sticker on the boot.
F1 Inspiration Verdict: D-
2. 2005 BMW E60 M5
As you can see from the above picture, BMW were making almost as much noise about the E60 M5’s F1 links as its wailing V10 did at full throttle.
Between 2000 and 2005 BMW supplied engines to the Williams Formula 1 team, which resulted in the outfit being branded as BMW.Williams F1 Team. The driver combination of Juan Pablo Montoya and the other Schumacher brother (Ralf), produced a string of wins and podiums, with the team taking second in the Constructors’ Championship in 2002 and 2003. A large part of this success was put down to the immense power output of the BMW V10 engine, rumoured to be substantially greater than others on the grid.
So it seemed only logical that BMW’s flagship performance car, the M5, would find itself with a F1 inspired 5.0 litre V10 engine, producing 500 bhp at almost 8000 rpm. Further plugging the Formula 1 link was an SMG III semi-automatic sequential gearbox, using motorsport-style paddles to shift its 7-speeds.
Performance was as suitably epic as you might imagine, with 0-60 mph in just over 4 seconds, and a top speed of 205 mph being possible with the electronic limiter removed. Some found the E60 M5 too complex after the relative simplicity of its predecessors – it featured 11 gearbox settings for example – plus there was still the issue of the Chris Bangle-era styling to contend with.
In time it’s fair to say the V10-powered M5 has probably worked its way further into the admiration of petrolheads since its replacement, furthered by the fact we’re unlikely to ever see a high-revving V10 saloon car again. Quite frankly, it was epic. If you need any further provenance of its F1 roots, here’s a video which captures all of those screaming 5.0 litres.
F1 Inspiration Verdict A –
3. 2005 Fiat Stilo Schumacher GP Version
Yes, it’s another Fiat celebrating Michael Schumacher’s success with Ferrari in the middle of the noughties. In 2005 it was the turn of the, already German inspired, Stilo to get some Formula 1 themed attention.
The Stilo was hardly a great base to start with, being almost universally unloved by the media for its bland styling, underpowered engines and dated suspension design. There were in fact two versions badged Schumacher, with the “GP” edition produced solely for the British market. In order to make something worthy of the Schumacher name (unlike the Seicento above) Fiat UK turned the Stilo over to famed motorsport engineering firm Prodrive, and asked them to use their witchcraft.
Prodrive gave it their best, fitting the regular Stilo Schumacher with specially developed Eibach suspension springs, dampers from Bilstein, 18″ OZ Superturismo wheels and a stainless steel exhaust system. The 2.4 litre 5-cylinder engine was unchanged for the GP version at 170 bhp, resulting in a fairly un-F1 like 0-60 mph sprint in 8.5 seconds. At the time it was praised for being a marked improvement over the regular Stilo, but failed to challenge hot-hatch mainstays.
Whilst clearly progress from the Seicento, painting something Ferrari red and limiting it to 200 units still makes for a tenuous Grand Prix link. The UK only GP version may have redeemed the Stilo slightly, but we’re still a long way from convincing performance here.
F1 Inspiration Verdict C +
4. 1993 Renault Clio Williams
In the early 1990s, Williams-Renault was one of the dominant force in Formula 1, with successive Constructors’ title wins in 1992, 1993 and ’94. The first-generation Clio was also enjoying a winning time, taking the title of European Car of the Year in 1991. So it seemed almost inevitable that the French company would combine its two big victories in one special hot-hatch package. Over the years the Clio Williams would produce “2” and “3” badged versions, but the very first is regarded as the best.
Dropping a 2.0 litre 4-cylinder with 150 bhp, into a lightweight early ’90s supermini meant performance was considerable for the time, with 0-60 mph in 7.6 seconds. That, and a top speed of 121 mph, might not seem so dramatic today, but we are talking about a vehicle from two decades ago. Bespoke items such as an engine oil cooler, four-to-one manifold, uprated gearbox and suspension parts borrowed from the Renault 19 made it more special.
The exterior was resplendent with Sports Blue paintwork, gold Speedline alloy wheels, larger rear spoiler compared to the 16v model and unique Williams badges on the boot and rear wheel arches. Internally, everything went blue; seatbelts, dashboard dials, gear knob and carpets all found themselves coloured bleu. A special plaque showed which of the 390 UK cars you were behind the wheel of.
Despite the Williams F1 team having no actual involvement in the car’s development – that being left to Renault Sport – the end product was, and still is, held in extremely high regard today by enthusiasts and journalists. Whilst it may not be truly Grand Prix influenced by packing a V10 engine or carbon-fibre chassis, it did at least correctly capture the success part of the Williams-Renault team.
F1 Inspiration Verdict B +
5. 1990 Honda NSX
Before the dominance of Williams-Renault in Formula 1, the combination of McLaren and Honda were the powerhouse to beat on track, taking four back-to-back championships from 1988 to 1991. To showcase its winning technology, and to prove that the company could build a car better than a Ferrari, Honda began the development of the NS-X prototype.
A 3.0 litre V6 engine revved to an 8000 rpm redline, utilising Honda’s VTEC wizardry to produce 270 bhp; good for 0-60 mph in 5 seconds and all the way to almost 170 mph. But the high-revving V6 was only part of the equation behind the NSX. Whilst power clearly mattered, lightweight construction and balance handling were also of importance, as was producing a high-quality, usable car.
The NSX was constructed from an all-aluminium monocoque chassis, providing lightweight and strength. However, the chassis was initially not quite stiff enough for person involved in its development – a certain Ayrton Senna.
Senna played a key role in the fine tuning of the NSX, testing various development examples for Honda, and forming a strong friendship with Chief Engineer Shigeru Uehara. Ayrton suggested that the chassis needed to be further stiffened before production; something Honda took on board. In honour of the work Senna did on helping with the NSX, Honda presented him with two examples of the car; one red, one black.
Out of all the cars above, the NSX must truly rank as the most inspired by Formula 1, given that one of the sport’s greatest ever drivers played a key role in its development. You certainly didn’t see Nigel Mansell helping out with the creation of the Renault Clio Williams, and I’m rather sure Michael Schumacher didn’t sign off the Fiat Seicento or Stilo. Oh, and if you need any more convincing of why the NSX should be rated the most inspired, just watch this video:
You’ve got to love the white socks!
F1 Inspiration Verdict A +
There are probably more cars out there which have used the name of Formula 1 to further their development, or sales, but I feel the above five demonstrate a good spread between the tenuous and tenacious. I’m off to buy some brown slip-on loafers…