08 April 2019 10:40
This weekend's Chinese Grand Prix marks the 1000th race in Formula 1 history. Chris takes us through the evolution of the sport.
F1 turns 1000!
After nine hundred and ninety-nine Formula 1 races over sixty-nine years, F1 has seen many changes. Its evolved from basic cars, originally driven and run by rich amateurs, into the big corporate marketing machines we see today. In that time the cars have changed massively, safety has improved, complexity has grown exponentially. We take a look at just some of the ways the sport has changed
1950 - The New Age of Grand Prix Racing
On a disused Royal Air Force base in May 1950, in rural Northamptonshire, twenty-one entrants lined up on the grid for the first ever Formula 1 Grand Prix. Officially dubbed as the European Grand Prix. In a grid made up of Maserati's, Talbots, Alfa Romeo's, Atlas's and ERA's, it was Alfa Romeo who took a clean sweep of the podium, with Dr Giuseppe Farina taking the first ever win, all nine points, and the bonus point for fastest lap. Farina went on to be the first ever Formula 1 World Champion.
Aristocrats to Sportsmen
The make-up of a driver has changed considerably over the last 69years. Original entry lists would be made up of paid drivers, former pilots, aristocrats and royalty. Weight and fitness were not necessarily important as they were negligible when combined with the weight of the hulking engines in their cars.
As Formula 1 careered through the 1960's, teams started looking into the weight and aerodynamics of cars, with drivers becoming smaller, like jockeys. It was important to keep fit, but it wasn't until Michael Schumacher arrived on the scene, that the professional level of training rose so suddenly. As technology advanced and the need for the driver to be in peak condition, the standard of health for drivers advanced too. The drivers today have the highest fitness levels of all, in order to handle the speeds and effects on the body.
The rise of the first legend
By the end of the decade, F1 had really taken hold, and with it the rise of its first legend. Juan Manuel Fangio. "El Maestro" (The Master) won the Formula 1 World Championship five times in the 1950's, winning 24 of 51 races for Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati, and Mercedes. His record would stand for forty-six years, until a young upstart called Michael Schumacher would win seven times!
The early years provided us with our first driver rivalry between Fangio v Farina. but compared to what was to follow it was a polite and respectful affair, with Farina even gifting Fangio the winner's laurels in hospital after his near-death accident in Monza.
The most renowned rivalry of all time remains when McLaren took advantage of the driver market to pair proven champion Alain Prost with the promising Ayrton Senna. Tension was present from the start, but things truly fell apart during the 1989 season when the young Senna refused to bow to his more experienced team mate. Though Prost came out victorious, the following year Senna deliberately crashed into Prost at the start of the Japanese race to secure the championship. This rivalry helped then and McLaren win take four of the six-word championships.
Senna's premature death robbed the world of us seeing the rivalry of a young upcoming Michael Schumacher, who went on to dominate for nearly a decade. Though sparks of animosity have bubbled, it wasn't until long-time racing friends Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton were pitted against each other in the 2017 season, that F1 really saw its next big clash. Hamilton coming off back of back championship wins, came up against a reinvigorated Rosberg keen to re-assert his dominance in the team. This most notably resulted in the coming together just before turn 4 in Barcelona at the Spanish GP. Rosberg got the better that season. Objective completed, but the toll on him, made him decide to retire as a result. With a hot-headed Max Verstappen fast upcoming in the sport, we may not have to wait long for the next. The question though will with whom?
The Balance of Power
Manufacturers have historically held the upper hand in Formula, but every now and then, we have gone through an era of private constructor dominance. The first of these came in 1958 when Vanwall started the run of British "Garagista" teams beating the big boys at their own game. The most famous of these teams was Lotus, who with Colin Chapman at the helm had won titles for decades. Without these pioneering teams, we wouldn't have had McLaren and Williams today.
The most famous instance of this in recent memory is of course Jenson Button's popular World Championship win in 2009 with the newly rescued Brawn F1 team. Their unique take on the design of the double diffuser was worth almost two seconds a lap at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
The original concept of racing was simple - a huge engine gave more power, and that's how races were won. The opening day of the sport already had a dominating manufacturer in Maserati, and Ferrari weren't far behind. Enzo Ferrari himself believed that aerodynamics were simply for teams with inferior engines! How times have changed.
Whilst the movement of air over a car had been long accepted as a method of helping a car go faster, it wasn't until 1968 when Colin Chapman added subtle front and rear wings to his Lotus 49 design. This started the downforce development race, allowing cars more grip in corners. Too little and they'll slide off the track. Too much, and they'll be slow on straights and burn through the tyres.
It wasn't long before other teams were following suit due to both the increased cornering speeds and gains in handling. Some teams would remove the rear wings at faster circuits, however whilst this increased straight line speed, it made the cars very unstable. This famously led to tragedy when Jochen Rindt lost control of his Lotus in Monza in 1970, losing his life. Mounted wings then became a permanent feature of Formula 1 cars.
The concept was simple, but crazy. Replacing the front wheels with four smaller wheels would allow more front grip, and thus the car would need less front downforce, making it faster in a straight line. Only a maverick like Ken Tyrrell would sign that off, and sure enough at the forth round of the 1976 World Championship, Tyrrell Racing unloaded a six-wheel Formula 1 car. Not only did it look crazy, but it was fast! In only it's forth race, the team completed a famous 1-2 victory in Sweden.
This kind of thinking led to another revolution - the Brabham BT46b. In 1978 Brabham unleashed "The Fan Car", a modified version of their existing car which had a fan fitted for "engine cooling", which was actually sucking the air from under the car, adding a huge increase in downforce. The car won its first and race, before being withdrawn from the sport and made illegal following the uproar from rival teams.
From Disused Airfields to Spectacular Super-Circuits
One of the biggest steps forward in Formula 1 has been the birth of the super-circuit. After a heritage of racing on runways and service roads, circuit were becoming more commercial.
The first super-circuit was the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia. The track was made to a new modern specification, with features and standards that challenged the cars. It was a circuit made for modern cars and modern fans alike, increasing the viewing experience as much as the racing experience.
Some new circuits have come and gone, and whilst racing through the night isn't new for motorsport, Formula 1 remained strictly a daytime affair until 2008. That was until Singapore hosted the first ever night-time race. Pioneering 1,600 light projectors around the length of the circuit to light track, and in turn created an new entertainment benchmark for years to come.
The biggest change in Formula 1 is safety. In the early days, drivers didn't even wear seatbelts believing it safer to be thrown from the car. Innovations came through experience, often under horrific circumstances. Crash barriers replaced haybales, whilst restraints such as the Hans Device restricted the movement of the head in a highspeed accident have saves literally hundreds of lives.
Some choices remain controversial, for example the cockpit halo introduced in 2018, however I'm sure a lot of opinions changed after Charles Leclerc had Fernando Alonso go over his car at the start of last years Belgian Grand Prix.
The most famous raft of changes came in 1995, after the tragic loss of Ayrton Senna at the San Marino Grand Prix the year before. Led by Professor Sid Watkins, the chief medical delegate for Formula 1, the FIA, GPDA, and Formula 1 introduced the safety cell. The engineering of the car's chassis allowing for a protective cell around the driver in order to protect them from hard and high-speed impacts. This revolutionised motorsport safety immensely, being implemented into feeder series and then across most disciplines of racing, and has saved more lives than I could count.
It's taken sixty-nine years for Formula 1 to notch up its first thousand races. Given that there were only seven races in that first championship season, and Formula 1 is looking to increase the schedule to twenty-five races a year in the near future, it would only take another 40 years to get to two thousand. We've seen cars, drivers, and the commercial business of Formula 1 grow and grow. They've revolutionised entertainment, advanced technologies, and pushed the very boundaries of speed. What could Formula 1 look like by 2059?