The modern era of the Formula One World Championship began in 1950, but the roots of Formula One or F1 are much older and can be traced back to the pioneering road races in France that were first held in the 1890s. Much has changed since the beginnings of F1. The cars, strategies, circuits, technology and safety, not to mention the public interest and fan base, have all developed significantly since the first Grand Prix Championship race in 1950.
However, one thing remains the same: the thrill, energy and enthusiasm of the spectators for the teams, drivers and, of course, the race. With the advent of technology, the internet and satellite TV, F1 has never had a bigger following than it has today. Now people all over the world can watch live, as their favourite drivers and teams compete for the F1 World Championship title. The internationalisation of F1, adding Indian and Malaysian backed teams, as well as Grand Prix races in Austria, China, Russia and Singapore, has substantially increased the race’s fan base.
The first motor race using the name Grand Prix was held in 1901, the French Grand Prix at Le Mans. This race was won by Ferencz Szisz, driving a Renault and covering the 1,120kms (700 miles) at an average speed of 100kph (63mph). It was only later, in the 1908 Grand Prix, that so-called ‘pit stops’ and the ‘pit area’ were added, remaining fixtures of F1 racing as we know it today. However, back then these so-called pit-stops were muddy ditches on the side of the road. The first race cars were mechanically unreliable and their tyres far less resilient. Subsequent Grand Prix races were held primarily in France, in places such as Lyon and Dieppe, but WWI quickly put an end to these races. Grand Prix racing then floundered until after WWII.
The first Formula One World Championship, under the jurisdiction of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile), took place in 1950. FIA is still the governing body for F1, and 1950 was the first year of the F1 World Championship Grand Prix races as we know them. The first race was at the Silverstone circuit in the UK in May of 1950, witnessed by King George VI. There were a total of 21 cars on the grid. Nino Farina, driving for Alfa Romeo, took the first ever pole position and eventually won the race over two hours later. He was followed by his teammate Luigi Fagioli and Briton Reg Parnell. The Grand Prix calendar that year had only six races: Britain, Monaco, the Indy 500, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy. At the end of the season, Nino Farina was declared the overall champion with 30 points, followed by his teammate Luigi Faglioli with 28 points.
The 1970s and 1980s were an important era for F1 racing. This was when F1 technology developed at a furious pace. Wings, turbocharged engines, aerodynamics and radial tyres all made racing cars faster, safer and more exciting to watch. The late 1980s and early 1990s saw great innovations in computer-aided devices such as semi-automatic gearboxes, anti-lock brakes, launch control, power steering and traction control. Some of these innovations were subsequently banned by the FIA. Rules and regulation changes continue to take place to make F1 racing safer but still exciting for drivers, teams and spectators alike.
Safety has always been a major issue in F1 and the advances in technology have added many safety features that have substantially increased the safety for drivers and spectators. These advances have significantly reduced the number of fatal accidents resulting in the deaths of famous race car drivers such as Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger. In fact, no F1 driver has had a fatal accident in a Grand Prix race since 1994, when Ayrton Senna died.
The face of F1 racing is also changing because the suppliers are changing. The last few years have seen a major reduction in the number of different suppliers. The supply of racing tyres is a case in point. The number of tyre suppliers has fluctuated from eight to two suppliers over the history of F1 racing. This changed when Bridgestone, one of the only two F1 tyre suppliers, exited F1 leaving only Pirelli. This meant that in 2011, Pirelli became the sole supplier of tyres to F1 racing and this continues today. This is also true of engine suppliers. There have been at least 20 engine suppliers on and off in F1 since its inception. However, with the exit of Toyota in 2009 and Honda in 2008, the number of engine suppliers has significantly declined. Today, there are just three engine suppliers: Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault. This is a decline from four last season, with Cosworth not supplying an engine this season.
F1 will continue to evolve with new technologies, circuits, teams and drivers. Every season brings its own excitement!