Formula One (F1) is the highest class of single-seat auto racing, with the fastest road course racing cars in the world. With a global television audience of 425 million in 2014, it is a massive sport whose story is as rich and exciting as its races.
The ‘formula’ component of the name refers to the standard set of rules to which all teams and drivers must adhere. F1 is sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (the FIA), which has had a controversial history over the years, notably including a dispute over the commercial administration of motorsport in the 1990s.
Following a thriving European racing scene in the inter-war years, and with initial discussions around a drivers’ championship banded around in the later 1930s, Formula 1 finally came to fruition in 1950. The first world championship race was held in 1950 at Silverstone in England; a track that remains in use to this day.
The early days of F1 saw a number of non-championship races which ran until 1983 when they ceased due to their unprofitability and privateers, who were self-funded drivers. The death toll in the early years was high, with 13 drivers killed in the first decade alone.
Initially dominance was felt primarily by major pre-war car manufacturers including Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Mercedes Benz. The Constructors Championship was introduced in 1958 and today is it, arguably, as competitive as the main drivers’ championship.
Since 1950, 71 tracks have hosted a Grand Prix; they are usually purpose built tracks, but some of the most famous, Monaco among them, are held on closed street circuits. In the early days the races were predominantly held across Europe, but recent years have seen expansion into Asia and America and of the 20 circuits that held races in 2012, nearly half were not in use before 1999.
Modern times has seen the departure of Bernie Ecclestone. With his round glasses and Andy Warhol haircut, Ecclestone has been heading up Formula One since 1978 and almost four decades down the track he finally retires. The huge enterprise that Ecclestone created will go on, but much will change.
There will be battles ahead, particularly over revenue splits and budget caps, but the aim now is growth, growth and more growth.