The History of F1 Auto
Part I : Before the 1950s
March 8, 2005
The world has taken on a different shape with the birth of Formula One
more than 50 years ago. Races were exclusive either to the world’s
elite or top notch car manufactures such as Alfa Romeo and Ferrari.
The races were scattered around the year with no calendar or
The world of professional motorsports had two separate lives, one
before the 1950’s and one right after it.
The F1 Grand Prix championship took on a more organized role in 1950.
It scheduled a calendar of motorsports bringing together most of the
developed nations to host a race. It was an expensive hobby that
translated into a championship held in several countries over a
calendar year where teams would fight for the title. Each race was a
glittery event on its own.
However, the world of motor racing kicked off as early as 1885 when
the invention of the first successful petrol-driven car was announced
by the Motor-Wagen of Karl Benz. The first motor car race was held in
1887 from Paris to Versailles at a top speed of 21 km. The aim was
simply to finish. But in the events that followed, the idea of speed
came into play in respect to the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris which took place
in June 1895. The race was a distance of 1,178km and this was often
taken as the first proper motor race, even though there has been a
claim that a race took place in the United States in 1878, from Green
Bay to Madison, Wisconsin which was won by an Oshkosk steamer.
In July 1898 the first international race was organized to run from
Paris-Belgium-Amsterdam-Paris. This was the first race that had
categories. The organizers set two categories based on the weight of
the cars; one category was for cars above 400 kg while the other was
for the lighter ones.
In 1900 Gordon Bennett Jr. financed an international event, the
inaugural 'Gordon Bennett Trophy Race' to be held in France and
organized by the l'Automobile Club de France (ACF). Each country's
national motoring association was allowed to register three cars
entirely built in their country; the winner's national association
would be responsible for hosting and organizing the following year’s
event. The Gordon Bennett races were marred by many competitor and
spectator deaths leading the French government to ban motor racing
many times. However, these bans were quickly overturned as the French
motor industrialists exercised there growing influence on the
In 1905, the ACF withdrew their substantial support of the event,
frustrated at being limited to a maximum of three entries. Without the
ACF the Gordon Bennett trophy races were discontinued in 1906. In 1906
however the ACF organized a new event - the ACF Grand Prix to be held
at Le Mans. Purpose built pits, spectator grandstands and barricades
were used for the first time even though the race was still held on
closed public roads. The ACF provided marshals to help the police with
By this time the cars were no longer 'on the road' production cars.
The cars were now stripped of all non-essential parts to decrease the
weight and increase the speed. Special features to enhance the cars’
speed were designed - this is when motor racing began to develop as a
The world of Grand Prix was born. Soon many races were being staged in
Europe. A world governing body called the Association Internationale
des Automobiles Reconnus was formed; in 1946 this became the
Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA). Closed-circuit racing
developed quickly in the United States while road racing burgeoned in
In 1909 the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built. It was an
oval circuit of 4.023 km (2.5 mi) and the first Indianapolis 500 mile
race was held in 1911. By 1914 many of the great car engineering and
manufacturing firms were established.
Between the world wars the sport boomed in Europe and America.
Numerous circuits were built, and better and faster cars were
developed. After World War II the growth and popularity of the sport
increased, and many more races were introduced. During the same
period, car manufactures were racing to produce the ‘best car’ that
can win. The most memorable car was the Bugatti Type 35 that won
around 200 races.
In 1933, the Le Mans 24 hour race was held while in 1937 the Mille
Miglia race of Italy was geared. Most of the car drivers were top of
the line including English aristocrats such as Sir Geoffrey Berkins
and Lord Hugh. Other European drivers joined in such as French Louis
Chiron, Germans Rudolf Caracciola and Herman Lang. However the best
driver of all time during that period was Italian Tazio Nuvolari.
Car manufactures went through a string of experiments as they tried to
produce a winning car. In 1921, three liter cars were introduced and
then decreased to two liters the following year. Rules in races were
amended throughout the years. In 1925, the technical co-driver was
banned due to safety scares while in 1926, cars that had 1/2 to one
liter were allowed to race. In another two years ‘open formula’ was
born where the rules didn’t control the size of the engine.
In 1947, a logical change to the regulations allowed 1500cc
supercharged cars and 4.5 liters normalcy aspirated cars to compete.
The international formula becomes ‘International Racing Formula no.1’.
The name would later change to Formula One. The supercharged cars were
the dominating category notably with Alfettas, Maserati and 4CLTs.
Formula 2 began shortly after the world war two in 1947. It aimed to
give those drivers and teams not involved in grand prix racing the
chance to close the gap to the top of international motorsport.
Bahrain International Circuit
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