Dora the Explorer Parade Float
Dora the Explorer Parade Float - 2009 - Credit: Jere Keys (via Flickr)

Formula 1: A Look Back Through The Premier Class Of Racing

The popularity of Formula One racing has grown to a point where it is now attracting a global television audience in excess of 520 million. The race meetings are attended by thousands of people who are all keen and willing to show their support for their favorite driver or team and pay a great deal of money for the privilege.

The amazing cars that you see today on the Formula One race track can reach flat out speeds of close to 220 mph (360kmh) and they still manage to achieve these speeds, despite the fact that their finely tuned engines are limited – if you can call it limited – to 18000 rpm.

This speed goes a long way to attracting the sponsorship deals from some of the world’s biggest companies, which make the Formula One racing world go around. Running a team for a year, taking in all of the races on all of the continents visited, can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, so it is a little above most people’s bank balances.

It hasn’t always been this way, however, as in the early years of the 20th century when this type of racing began, there were no set classes and not a massive amount of in-depth rules. Although it was somewhat crude by today’s standards, the racing continued to improve and culminated in the standardization of the rules by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile – the FIA – in 1946.

The Turin Grand Prix on September 1st of that year was the very first race to be run under these new rules and regulations and was known initially as Formula A.  This maiden non-championship race was won by Italian Achille Varzi, who was driving an Alfa Romeo 158 Alfetta.

Image:  Autoblog Uruguay (Flickr)

Image: elstro_88 (Flickr)

The first real world championship race took place at the Silverstone race track on the 13th May 1950 and was won by Giuseppe Farina who again was driving an Alfa Romeo. From this point onwards, the formula went from strength to strength and along the way produced some fantastic drivers.

During the 1950s, one man won the world championship an amazing 5 times in 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957 and he was Juan Manuel Fangio . The Argentine driver won his titles driving for four different teams – Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes Benz and Maserati – something that has never been repeated. He also set the record, as yet unbeaten, of winning 46.15% percent of the races that he started.

Image:  Sherlock77 (Flickr)

Image:  Sami Oinonen (Flickr)

As the 1960s arrived, it proved to be a decade that was to be dominated by British drivers, who won in 6 out of the 10 years. Graham Hill won in 1962 and 1968, Jim Clark won in 1963 and 1965, John Surtees won in 1964 and Jackie Stewart won in 1969.

These people took their lives in their hands when you think about the, at best, rudimentary safety equipment that was available at the time. Open faced crash helmets and goggles were the order of the day, but this didn’t seem to bother these daring heroes, who hurtled around the tracks at breakneck speed with their ‘devil may care’ attitude.

Image:  prorallypix (fotopedia)

Image:  The Henry Ford (Flickr)

Image: | El Caganer (Flickr)

Image: | El Caganer (Flickr)

The 1970’s brought about another 2 championships for Jackie Stewart in 1971 and 1973 and one in 1976 for another British driver, James Hunt. There were some memorable races during these years, which saw the likes of Nikki Lauda and Emerson Fittipaldi battling for supremacy, each taking 2 titles during the decade.

Image:  formulaphoto (Flickr)

Image:  bobaliciouslondon (Flickr)

As the 1980s arrived, a bright young driver by the name of Ayrton Senna burst onto the scene to join Lauda, Prost, Piquet and co and really put the cat amongst the pigeons.

Senna’s driving style enabled him to become a challenger for the title very quickly and in 1988 he won the first championship of what would prove to be a treble.  Unfortunately, he was tragically killed in a crash during the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994 and it is regularly said that this championship figure would have undoubtedly been much higher if he hadn’t suffered such an untimely death.

Image: Mark Curzon (Flickr)

Image:  IoW_Sparky (Flickr)

By the time the 1990s came around, Formula One was absolutely huge, but nevertheless as exciting as ever, especially with the emergence of a certain German racer.

As soon as he burst onto the scene, it was obvious that Michael Schumacher was going to be the one who eventually beat Fangio’s long standing record of championship wins, something he did when he managed to win seven championships.

There were also several British drivers who proved themselves in this decade, with Nigel Mansell winning the title in 1992 and Damon Hill following in his father’s footsteps, winning in 1996.

Image:  StuSeeger (fotopedia)

Image:  ingirogiro (fotopedia)

Image: Jez B (Flickr)

As the new century began, Formula One was proving to be more popular than ever, with more people wanting to see these modern day gladiators giving it there all.

There was an influx of young exciting drivers who were only too keen to muscle in and mix it with the older experienced guys, all becoming virtual superstars, bringing a clean cut image and the natural ability to be comfortable in front of the television cameras giving interviews.

Image:  Alistair Brett Woodford (Flickr)

The cars that race today, in reality, bear very little resemblance to the leviathans that the early racers had to cope with, as almost everything is now assisted or managed by computer.

The speeds may have increased, but the safety measures in place nowadays have drastically reduced the chances of the driver being injured if he is involved in a crash.  Technology has played a massive part in the success of this type of racing, as it evolved as quickly as the need dictated during every decade.

Join the discussion

  • They raped a Texas hilltop at Elroy, of all places, to put a silly F1 track in. F1. In the Hill Country. What’s sillier is the other stuff they have planned: showers, for the cyclists who will flock to the races, riding their bicycles from Austin on a planned bike route. Also planned (I haven’t kept up recently, but this was also in the works) is a five-acre community garden. Boy…I can’t wait for the State to start tearing up FM812, to widen and smooth it out for the mass of spectators expected. The saddest thing about this fiasco is that the little store at Piland Triangle will probably be bought (or forced) out, and some developer will make a ton while the (former) owner will be run off with a mere pittance. Come on, now…Formula 1 in the Hill Country makes as much sense as that Prada store out in the middle of freakin’ nowhere north of Marathon…

    • So, there’s a severe shortage of hilltops in Texas these days? You can’t spare even one to allow someone to build something people who aren’t you will enjoy? Or should the entire state remain in a state befitting your personal idea of purity? You’re in Texas, fercrhissakes, not California. Grow up.

      • Dan, it’s the asshats from Cali who are destroying a lot of hilltops around here with their idiotic Spanish tile monstrosities. And it’s thinking like yours that gives the infestation known as the human race a bad name. Now that you’ve proven to be the typical idiot that you are, please to be shutting the fuque up.

        You may like seeing the countryside torn up where *you* are, but that’s an issue *you* must live with.

  • My bad. It was Marfa, not Marathon. You know, the place with the Marfa Lights. *That* explains why there’s a Prada store there.

  • Hello. Beautifull pictures and excellent article.
    Talking about journalism, not all news are good, but are news, and some people want to see.
    I have pictures of fatal accident Francois Cevert at Watkins Glenn, U.S.A. No photographers were around that area when it happened. Thus, these are the only pictures in the world.
    Would like to sell them to someone related to journalism and Grand Prix.
    If interested, please write to my email.

    • Hello there, Cesar,

      I’m a sports journalist from London who has, quite by chance, today landed on this page, today. Could you please let me know a little more about your photos of the Cevert crash, as I’m intrigued to hear that these may have never been published before. Please feel free to contact me via my enclosed e-mail address.



  • No mention of Jack Brabbam
    Formula One World Drivers Champion 1959, 1960 and 1966
    Formula One World Constructors Champion 1966 and 1967
    Fourteen Grand Prix wins
    Thirteen Formula One Pole Positions
    Ten second and seven third place finishes
    Australian of the Year 1966
    Awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1967
    Knighted for his services to motor sport in 1979
    Only driver in Formula One history to win the championship in a car of his own construction
    Contested 126 Grand Prix from 1955 to 1970
    British Saloon Car Championship in 1965
    Won both the Australian and New Zealand Grand Prix three times
    Four-time winner of the European Formula Two Championship

    • Apologies for not mentioning Jack Brabbam, Tony. This piece started off twice as long, as there we just so many people to mention. Perhaps next time I’ll look at Jack – and a few others!

  • Lame article considering the weird photos along with it. The Lotus Ford is Jimmy Clark at the Indy 500, not F1. Captions don’t match the photos at all. No mention of Nigel Mansell but a big photo of him. Brithish Championships are referred to as “6 of 10 races” in the 1960’s. Poor effort by someone who has only a limited knowledge of F1. Decent photos though, made me look.

    • I’m sorry you didn’t like the piece, dw. It was meant as an overview of F1 and therefore there was no particular caption for any image – they were, as hopefully they did, stir up some memories of F1 throughout the years.

      I do believe Nigel Mansell was mentioned in the piece, though.

      And thanks for pointing out the “6 out of 10 races” bit – changed!

  • “The Lotus Ford is Jimmy Clark at the Indy 500, not F1.”

    True, however the 500 was part of the F1 Championship between 1950 and 1960 – at least the picture isn’t one of the Lotus turbos…

  • Hey, Dan. Thanks for at least revive a bit of this amazing saga that’s been F1. You probably know that there are few takers of this ‘circus’ within the U.S., since Nasdaq has become so dominant, and very few American pilots excelled on the way more challenging (for a driver’s POV) F1.
    However, you may want to organize it better your material. You seem to have the enthusiasm for the sport, and yet didn’t really take the time to put it all in appealing way.
    I’d suggest to republish it with a box, listing all the championships, so you get that out of the way. Next, you may want to add a bit more of color to your prose, perhaps enhancing what distinguished one racing driver from the other. Hint: the place each came from may help you. Then, line up and caption the pics, so they can relate to the text. You’ll never satisfy everyone or mention every single champion or ace of the sport. I can think of several but it’s not important. What counts is that you bring forth your passion through your choice of words and events. If done right, the reader will perceive it and share them with you, regardless that you mention or not their favorites. Hope it helps. All the best. Wesley

    • Thanks for the comments, Wesley. This piece was meant as more of a discussion piece, but as you mentioned, it could be useful to create something more structured in the future.

  • Great article, I enjoyed it.

    Comments were disturbing.
    Marfa? No way, Marfa is in the middle of nowhere… there goes the neighborhood.
    Lived in Van Horn… Marfa, you are kidding, right?
    Screw F-1 .