As far as auto car racing sports is concerned, there is no doubt that Formula 1 (F1) racing gets the highest prestige in international motorsports entertainment. Its global success as an auto racing for single-seater formula racing cars is irrefutable, with an overall T.V. viewership that stood at 471 million, not to mention thousands of live audience attending Grands Prix events across the globe.
Despite all its prestige and the staggering amount of money coming into this sport each year, it is, of course, rooted in quite a challenging history, which proved to be one of the sport’s prime ingredients in becoming the global leviathan that it is today.
Let’s have a quick rerun of Formula One’s history and evolution.
KICK OFF YEARS
When automobiles were invented, so emerged one man’s greatest source of extreme entertainment – motor racing. The early Grand Prix in the European region during the interwar was a kick-starter for the sport. However, these races’ main goal was to show off car and driver skills to boost competition and marketing of products to the European population.
F1 would’ve officially raced much earlier had it not for the onset of World War II and the rise of Nazism. During the Pre-WWII, the technological focus of European engineers was highly directed to war preparations. This postponed the birth of Formula 1 until 1946.
BIRTH OF FORMULA 1
It was not until 1946 that the idea of the Formula One Championship. The concept came with the codification of technical rules that would govern all the F1 races to come. These technical rules or ‘formula’ are a standardized set of rules made and enforced by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile’s (FIA). However, races from 1946 – 1950 were all ad hoc events and not included in the overall calendar. In the 1960s and 70s, National championships were held in South Africa and United Kingdom (U.K.).
The name ‘Formula 1’ refers to the category of cars following specific technical rules during races. Formula 1 was initially known variously as Formula One, Formula I, and/or Formula 1, while the following “Voiturette” formula was known as Formula B, Formula II, and/or Formula 2. In 1950, the third formula, the 500c, was internationally acknowledged as “Formula 3”. However, it was never named “Formula C” just like the two other Formulae; hence, the three International Formulae were “officially” recognized as Formula 1, Formula 2, and Formula 3.
THE FIRST DRIVERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP RACES
In 1950, the details regarding the Drivers’ World Championship were officially finalized. In the same year, the first-ever World Championship Grand Prix took off at Silverstone in the U.K. However, although the fundamental structures were laid, only seven Grand Prix counted towards the World Championship, and until 1893, non-championship races were held.
As one may expect, through these times of early World Championships, one motor company tends to dominate others as if in succession. In the 1960s and early 70s, The British rules the championship, followed by Ferrari in the mid-1970s and the late 1990s and early 2000s. In recent years, Williams and Mercedes were the dominating manufacturers.
A pivotal point in the history of F1 racing happened in 1971 as Bernie Ecclestone assumed office and managed Formula One’s commercial rights paving an era for F1’s becoming a global financial power.
POST WORLD WAR II
It is after WWII that F1 took slow but sure steps toward evolution.
- The 300-mile Grands Prix was reduced to 200 miles.
- Avgas became the standard fuel used by F1 drivers.
- A car with an engine mounted behind the driver won the championship for the first time. This newly designed car won the Argentine Grand Prix that other companies soon imitated and became the standard across all manufacturers. The car, Cooper, was driven by Stirling Moss at that time.
- Honda, a Japanese team, won the Mexican Grand Prix using a transverse engine; it was the first of its type to ever won a Grand Prix and also the last as no company attempted to imitate the design.
- It was the last Grand Prix to feature 1.5-liter engine cars before the upgrade to 3.0 liters that upped the top speed of early racing cars to a regular 200 mph.
During the years after WWII, F1’s popularity spread worldwide that Grands Prix was held in almost every continent. This, by far, is the biggest step towards Formula 1’s evolution.
UPGRADES ON F1 CAR TECH
Throughout its history, F1 is undoubtedly the safest and the most upgraded motorsports there is. F1’s technology is, by all means, a collection of the competing teams’ constant effort in finding ways to gain a competitive advantage.
One massive development in F1 was the engine’s placement, which was inspired by Stirling Moss’ Cooper in 1958. He won the Argentine Grand Prix driving a car that featured a behind-driver engine. This was imitated by manufacturers and later became the standard design.
Another was the development of the aluminum sheet monocoque in 1962, which naturally defined cars as one long body panel. This made the cars lighter and more rigid, opening opportunities to achieve greater speeds. Mclaren later superseded it in 1981 upon the development of carbon fiber chassis.
Other innovations emerged as well, such as active suspension, turbochargers, and traction control, but these were banned from time to time throughout the history of Formula One.
SAFETY MEASURES AND INITIATIVES
It is no lie to say that Formula One is one of, if not the safest motorsports there is. With the innovation on aerodynamics and speed comes the safety upgrades on F1. Safety precautions were implemented as a result of the alarming risk of driver fatalities due to increased speed. Hence, these innovations were implemented so that there will be little to no risk of dying during crashes while driving in F1. Besides, these safety precautions were to protect the spectators watching from the sidelines.
In the 1960s,
- Drivers were required to use a fire-resistant suit to reduce injuries caused by fire during crashes.
- The use of safer fuel tanks and gas lines was also strictly observed.
- Safety belts and cockpits were designed for an easy and quick escape in case of a crash.
- Shatterproof helmets were also mandated of the drivers.
- Modern flag signals were introduced to serve as communication (especially to warn drivers of collisions ahead)
In the 1970s,
- Spectators were mandated to be three meters behind any fencing on any given circuit.
- Circuits were required to have ‘catch fences’ to prevent cars from endangering spectators.
- Safety bladders in fuel tanks were introduced.
- Safety foam in the tanks was mandated as well as the use of crushable structures around fuel tanks.
- A driver’s license became a requirement to drive with FIA actively encouraged and introduced stricter driver training standards.
In the 1980s,
- More technological advancements meant that F1 drivers can now be protected in all possible crash scenarios.
- The development of ‘survival cell’ and the idea of crumple zones help authorities make sure that crashes could be less fatal.
- The presence of medical staff on the field became more apparent.
- Refueling during the race was banned in 1984 to cub the possibility of fire.
In the 1990s,
- The headrest area was upped to four meters as mandated.
- The front overhang was reduced by 10 centimeters from the usual one meter.
- The distance of the rear wing height, the distance of the front wing endplate, and the wheel width were also regulated specifically and accordingly.
- Traction control, automatic gear, and anti-lock brakes were consequently banned in 1994 to help the driver engage more in driving than in their car’s technology.
In the 2000s and beginning of the 21st Century,
- Safety concerns revolve around the driver’s safety across various arrays of races.
- The ‘survival cell panel outer skin laminates’ were introduced and fitted, adding penetration resistance and increasing the static load side test in the driver’s leg areas by 20%.
These evolutionary changes regarding Formula One racing’s safety aspect were evidence that the sport genuinely looks after its drivers. The results only make the sport more inviting and attractive to aspiring drivers and fans alike.
Formula One has brought and continuously brings in the best drivers and manufacturers together. This is to prove that it is not just a global sensation but a coming together of top-notch individuals that could show the world what automobiles are capable of in the hands of brilliant minds.