Today Formula One is recognized as one of the premier sporting events in the world; motor racing has rightfully earned its place as a historic tradition cutting across social and cultural barriers. But what was Formula One like before the world was introduced to the FIA championship that we know and love today?
The Birth of Grand Prix
In 1906, the Automobile Club of France (CAF) organized a two-day racing event that went by the name ‘Grand Prix’, and it was an unprecedented success. The circuit in Le Mans, where it was held, was distinguished by its length of 65 miles (105 km), accommodating 32 participants who represented 12 car companies. Ferenc Szisz, a Hungarian driver, became the first official winner of the Grand Prix.
Each country went on to organize its own series with varying sets of rules. One thing all of them had in common was that each racer would have a mechanic on board, who was the only person allowed to work on the car other than themselves. Renault was hugely successful in the early years of motor racing thanks to its detachable wheels which made it possible to change the car without dismantling it.
The World War Years
1925 was the year of the first World Championship, with the Indianapolis 500 holding four races for a manufacturers’ championship rather than a driver’s title. This changed ten years later, as several federations came together in favor of the European Drivers’ Championship, which took place every year until the beginning of World War I. The 1933 Monaco Grand Prix marked the first time in motor racing history when the qualifying time determined the start order of the race. All the competing vehicles were seen displaying their national colors. The German government supported the event and even participated in the financing of two manufacturers, Auto Union and Mercedes Benz, who dominated in the mid to late 1930s.
Formula One Takes Shap
After World War II, Grand Prix held only 4 races, the rules of which were established years before. However, it wasn’t until 1947 when the rules really came into being the way we understand them today, as the Federation Internationale de L’Automobile became a powerful sporting body. At the end of the 1949 season of the Grand Prix, it was announced that the following year’s races would be unified towards the creation of a Grand Prix World Championship for Formula One drivers. The first race was held in the Silverstone circuit in the UK on May 13, 1950. Giuseppe Farina emerged as the winner, seated in an Alfa Romeo. Ferrari appeared in the second race in Monaco, and it went on to become the only manufacturer to compete throughout the history of Formula One.