50 years of Formula One

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How to find out how much F1 cars have changed? Ask Martin Brundle and test five of them

It was the look on Martin Brundle’s face which proved the value of what we were trying to achieve. From a 1990s Tynell, he clambered aboard a 1950s Connaught and headed off around Silverstone. Several laps later he returned, still grinning. In an 11-season career in the most exacting motor racing discipline, Brundle never drove a car with less than 500bhp or a power to weight ratio of under 1000bhp per tonne. The Connaught couldn’t scrape together 200bhp Wits life depended on it If this says something remarkable about Brundle, it says rather more about these cars. There is a purity of purpose about an F1 car which does not exist in other motorsport spheres. (lamp Cars lap purpose-built tracks at higher speeds, sportscars race around the clock. But no-one would argue that Formula One was anything other than the greatest form of racing, and that is a fact not lost on the British Racing Drivers’ Club, owners of Silverstone and host to the Coys International Historic Festival. This year it celebrates Formula One’s half-century at the venue of the inaugural event in the Woad Championship fir Drivers, on 13 May 1950. Examples of F1 cars from every single year of the championship will be at Silverstone, demonstrated by some of the greatest names in the sport

We took just one car per decade. From the 1950s came the ’53 A-type Connaught, the perfect car to represent the earliest breed of British Fl challengers (if you’re kind enough to omit the BRM V16). A 1964 central exhaust BRM P261 stood up for the 1960s and the 1.5-litre era; it is a rare, beautiful car and a startling reminder of what could be achieved with a small engine, even 36 years ago.

Then comes a big jump: slicks, wings and 3-litre engines defined the ’70s and this Brabham Alfa BT45, the only one of its type running in the world, is an extraordinary example of the breed. While almost all other teams enjoyed the brilliant Coswordi DFV, this Brabham came with a jewel of a flat-12 Alfa engine. Successful? Not hugely. A work of art as redolent of its era as any other? Of course.

Then came the turbos. No apologies at all for the unsuccessful Beatrice Lola representing this era. Turbo F1 cars that run and work are almost mythically rare beasts and the Lola, designed by Ross Brawn for a team run by Teddy Mayer and driven by Alan Jones has as good a tale to tell as any. That brings us to the 1990s and one of the decade’s most revolutionary cars. The Tyrrell 019 set the trend for high-nosed F1 cars, with superb handling which enabled Jean Alesi to humble many of those with more power and bigger budgets.

Five cars then, to represent five decades of Formula One, and Martin Brundle to drive the first and last just to see how far we have come. As will become clear, it’s perhaps even further than you think.