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F1 History 5

Classic season opener: 1950 British GP

In the run-up to the first Grand Prix of the year, we’ll be posting some classic season openers. If you have any suggestions, let us know in the comments.

We start with the first World Championship Formula 1 Grand Prix ever, at Silverstone in 1950. While there had been Grands Prix before and after the Second World War, this sunny May day marked the start of the modern era.

The first four spots were taken by the Alfa Romeos of Farina, Fagioli, Fangio and Parnell, giving an indication of who the top team would be for the rest of the year. There was a good fight between them though, and after Fangio dropped out with engine problems, Farina led Fagioli by 2.5 seconds at the line with Parnell third after hitting a hare.

The first World Championship race was fairly typical of the time, with ageing aces fighting tooth-and-nail for strong manufacturers and a gaggle of lesser cars circulating in their wake. Apart from the pageantry – with the royal family touring the track during the race and the flowers lining the straight – what’s interesting about the 1950 British Grand Prix is just how momentuous it was, given how the sport developed over the next 60 or so years. The first race of the World Championship was just like a lot of races before it, but F1 would change dramatically from here.

history  Classic season opener: 1950 British GP

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5 comments on Classic season opener: 1950 British GP

  1. Borrani, 22 February 2013 20:42

    Great film, which I haven’t seen before!

    If I may split a hair, Alex, this was the first world championship race but not the first Formula One race. F1 had been the formula for Grand Prix racing for two or three years.

  2. dave cubbedge, 23 February 2013 16:09

    As I watch this great video, does someone out there know who the voice belongs to?

  3. Alex Harmer, 23 February 2013 19:14


    You’re right of course, but the terminology does get tedious after a while. I’ve updated it for clarity.


  4. Listerine, 25 February 2013 17:02

    Dave, I think the voice might belong to Leslie Mitchell, the UK’s pre-eminent newsreel announcer of the day. It certainly sounds like him. Interesting that throughout the newsreel the race is only referred to as the GP d’Europe, never the British GP. These days, when considering this race and others of the period which bore the “Europe” moniker, we tend to think of it only as a secondary courtesy title, if indeed we think of it at all, The very headline of this thread is a case in point. But clearly the honour meant a lot in 1950, at least to the general media, so much that the newsreel’s scriptwriter got carried away into making a howler, for this was not the “first time ever that the title (was) permitted to leave France or Italy”, as suggested. In fact, the GP d’Europe had also been staged previously in Spain, Switzerland and Belgium. Never mind, the film is a marvellous insight into the whole meeting, bringing completely to life things one normally only reads about in print or views through grainy black and white photos. Simply wonderful – exactly what Motor Sport is about. A great pity then that it is accompanied by text which feels like it was written by a schoolboy, for a schoolboy. Utterly banal stuff. Thank goodness I got to it after the “first F1 race” gaffe had been removed, although the throwaway excuse “the terminology does get tedious” only worsens the impression of couldn’t-care-less sloppiness. Yes, one can be too pedantic, like the chap who insists the world title began in 1981, but this is the other extreme. The Motor Sport name demands better standards.

  5. dave cubbedge, 25 February 2013 22:07

    Thanks for that Lis, the voice is all too familiar to me, probably from watching other old newsreel stuff. (Old black and white films of about anything grab my attention…) The huge thing for me is the film is shot in that nice 50′s color!

    As far as us ‘pedants’ go, I am ready to cut some slack to MS for letting some historical information slip by unchecked – it isn’t the first time and won’t be the last – provided they hire a couple of us ‘vintage’ historians to put it right when needed!

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