A look at the history of Formula 1 auto racing give us a real insight into how it has developed into a global sensation over the decades. With it now being shown in more countries than ever before, and with a worldwide audience that is growing, it is hard to believe that this entire concept started off life as something much smaller in both size as well as stature.
The concept of racing cars at speed has been around since the creation of the motor vehicle. However, it was not until after World War II that the official structure of what would ultimately become known as Formula 1 began to appear. Prior to that, there were a series of races held in the 1920’s and 1930’s as part of a European race calendar, and for some, it is those races that began to set into motion the idea of Formula 1.
1946 saw the emergence of the Commission Sportive International, which became known as FIA and then eventually FISA. They were responsible for defining the term ‘Formula 1’ as a direct reference to them becoming the premier organization for single-seater racing. At that time, they also created Formula 2 as well as Formula 3 with the differences being based on engine sizes as used in races that had occurred before the outbreak of the war.
The First Cars
With races effectively beginning in 1947, there was ultimately a hybrid of vehicles that were allowed to enter the races. Technology had come on leaps and bounds, so you had both supercharged and non-supercharged vehicles racing against one another. Most of the earlier cars would also come from Italian manufacturers with the very first race being won in 1946 by Achille Varzi who was behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo 158 Alfetta.
The First Championship
Even though races were held from 1946, it was not until 1950 that the first World Championship appeared for both drivers as well as for the teams. This was largely as a direct result of the first motorcycle World Championship being created, and the FIA wanted to follow suit so as to not be left behind.
This first World Championship was not as involved as it is now. It covered six of the main races in Europe along with the Indianapolis 500 in the United States. This in itself was no different to what had been happening prior to 1950 although this was at least an attempt to formalize the entire championship into something that would ultimately lead to a winner at the end.
In the early days, it was still Italian based teams that would be at the forefront. Smaller manufacturers, such as Talbot from France and BRM from the UK would have relatively meager attempts at breaking the stranglehold that was held by the Italians but without much success. In addition, private companies were also allowed to take part in these earlier championships with individuals from Germany and the UK playing a prevalent part.
The first ever champion was Nino Farina driving for Alfa Romeo who had dominated the entire championship and were streets ahead of anybody else. 1951 saw Juan Manuel Fangio becoming champion, the first of several such successes for an individual who would go on to be one of the absolute legends of Formula 1.
The Development of Regulations
Formula 1 did not have to look too far to find some problems associated with its regulations, especially when it came to the engines that were allowed as well as the length of the races. It was not until 1958 that some substantial changes were allowed with the distances being shortened from an average of 300 miles to 200 miles.
1958 also saw alterations to the way in which the points were distributed. For the Constructors Championship, a team would only receive points for the highest placed car while the idea of a point for the fastest lap was scrapped.
Alterations to the way in which the cars were fuelled, along with the way in which costs were also reduced by improvements to engines, did mean that smaller manufacturers were able to make some headway against the big named Italians. This was first seen in 1958 when Stirling Moss won with a mid-engined Cooper. It was also the first victory for a car where the engine was mounted behind the driver with this signaling a major leap forward in the design of the cars that would then be used in Formula 1 from that moment on.
Those early years saw the championship staying almost exclusively in Europe. In fact, after it was decided that the Indianapolis 500 would no longer play a role in the crowning of a champion, there were several years where no races took place outside of Europe with this only being broken in 1958 when Stirling Moss won that race in the Cooper based in Argentina.
Since those early days, there have been continual alterations with the race calendar being expanded covering more countries along with engine sizes increasing, then decreasing only to increase yet again. A number of the original names, including Alfa Romeo and Maserati, have vanished from the starting list with it being dominated by just a handful of engine manufacturers that then lease them to other teams to race under their own name.
When you look at a history of Formula 1 auto racing, you see that the current changes in regulations, which appear to happen on a constant basis, is nothing new. It has been that way since the outset. However, the circuit itself is now in a much better place than those early days with countries competing to hold a race as opposed to it just not holding as much appeal aside from in a few countries that were also home to manufacturers.
Formula 1 has been full of accidents and high risk moves, and that is just in the administration and development of the sport. You could spend an eternity discussing that just in the history alone, but the one thing that you can be sure of is that the history side is just as fast-paced and enthralling as the racing has always been right from those very early days.