- Grand Prix
The Formula 1 World Championship has been the dominant motor racing series since it was inaugurated in 1950. The governing body of the time, the Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI), introduced the first rules to be called Formula 1 in 1947, to continue the already long tradition of Grand Prix racing.
Races for the new championship were originally centred on Europe’s finest circuits, although the Indianapolis 500 was officially a round for the first 11 years. Events in Argentina and a true United States Grand Prix had been added by the end of the 1950s.
The new decade saw British and Commonwealth drivers and teams move to the fore and compete with then four-time champions Ferrari. New races in Mexico and South Africa confirmed the spread of F1’s worldwide importance. By the end of the 1960s, teams replaced the national colours of Italian red, British Racing Green, or French blue with liveries derived from commercial sponsors.
Increased sponsorship and the wide availability of the Ford Cosworth DFV engine in the early 1970s led to more private teams, especially from British constructors. These years also saw increasing television coverage add to the awareness and popularity of the series. As the 1970s drew to a close, the numerous British teams belonging to the Formula One Constructors’ Association (FOCA) sought a more equitable share of the sport’s increasing revenues. FOCA, under the leadership of March founder Max Mosley and Brabham team owner Bernie Ecclestone, threatened a breakaway championship if the governing Federation Internationale de Sport Automobile (FISA) and the manufacturer-backed Renault, Alfa Romeo, and Ferrari teams did not compromise.
Eventually, the resulting Concorde Agreement saw Ecclestone take control of Formula 1’s commercial affairs. The coup was complete when Mosley was elected as President of FISA’s parent organisation, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). Under their direction, the next decades saw Grand Prix racing grow into a true world sport, producing undreamt-of income from commercial activity and television rights. Ecclestone remained the most influential person in the sport until Liberty Media acquired a controlling interest in 2016.
With races now added in Asia, Oceania and Eastern Europe and a new American home in Texas – the World Championship of today truly lives up to its title, albeit having eroded its traditional European heartland.
What is a Grand Prix start?
The farce that was the 2005 United States Grand Prix brought this question into sharp focus. Fears of a puncture on Indianapolis’ high-speed banked final turn forced the Michelin-shod runners to withdraw from the race at the end of the parade lap. That left just six Bridgestone runners to take the starting lights. Strict interpretation of the FIA rules of the time meant that the Michelin teams were classified as having started, but common sense (and spectators’ eyes) showed that they had not been on the track when the race began.
Various sources have various definitions of what constitutes a GP start, resulting in minor but annoying discrepancies in the number of events competed in by the likes of Laffite, Barrichello and Prost, to name but a few. For the record, I have credited a driver with a start based on the following definition:
A driver who was on the grid (or in the pits prior to making a delayed entrance) when the original signal to start was given, or who joined at any subsequent restart.
Thus, if a driver was eliminated in a startline accident that stopped the event and prevented him from taking the restart, he is still credited with starting that race. This means that Mike Thackwell (who was prevented from taking the restart of the 1980 Canadian GP when his team-mate requisitioned his undamaged Tyrrell) did start, and therefore became the youngest driver to have participated in a World Championship GP to that date. This definition also means that Niki Lauda did start at the Nurburgring in 1976, albeit with near-fatal consequences.
Organisers added a concurrent Formula 2 race to enlarge the field in the 1958 Moroccan and the 1957-58, 1966-67, and 1969 German GPs. Although the F2 drivers were not eligible to be classified in the overall results, they have always been credited as starting the Grand Prix.
The only exception to this definition relates to cars being specifically used to make a movie. Some drivers, most notably Phil Hill while filming Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix, have appeared in races complete with bulky cameras to record the action. But they were never truly in the race, and therefore have never been recorded as having competed.
Finally, if a driver failed to complete the parade lap (such as at Indy in 2005), he is not credited with starting the race as he did not take the signal to start.
The Indy 500 was officially a round of the Formula 1 World Championship from 1950 to 1960. Its inclusion in the series had little impact other than to confuse fans and record keepers. Of the European drivers, only Alberto Ascari raced at the Brickyard when he failed to finish the 1952 race. Conversely, that year’s race winner, Troy Ruttman, went on to compete unsuccessfully in the 1958 French GP.
From the early years of Grand Prix racing the car was more important than the driver. Often when a team’s fastest driver was delayed or had retired from a race, his team-mate was called into the pits and replaced by the team leader. For the first eight years of the championship, drivers who shared a car that finished in the leading positions shared the points, but from 1958 points were only awarded to drivers who completed an event on their own.
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