How Formula One Began

Formula One racing has often been considered one of the most exciting sports in the world and with good reason.

Early Formula One Racing

Formula One racing began around 1920 with the European Grand Prix Motor Racing. The first world champion was Giuseppe Farina who won with his Alfa Romeo in 1950. The first decade of Formula One racing was dominated by the so called Grand Master of Formula One.

Juan Manuel Fangio who won the championship a total of five times, a record which stood for 45 years. In 2003, Fangio’s record was beat by German driver Michael Schumacher when he won his sixth championship. The three most dominant manufacturers in early Formula One racing was Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and Mercedes-Benz. In 1954 Mercedes-Benz introduced the W196 which was the first car to feature fuel injection.

The Le Mans Disaster

In June 11, 1955 the Le Mans disaster happened during the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France. A crash caused large shrapnel to fly into the crowd which killed 83 spectators and French driver Pierre Levegh. Around 180 more were injured. Mercedez-Benz would not compete in motor racing for the next four years following the disaster. The Le Mans disaster is often referred to as the most catastrophic accident in motorsport history.

The Jaguar team went on the win the race by an outstanding five lap lead to Aston Martin due to Mercendes-Benz’s forfeit and Ferrari’s DNF(did not finish) result. A mass to honor the victims was held the following morning in the Le Mans Cathederal. Two rounds of the championship were cancelled and the other two were postponed by months. The accident onset the early retirements of famous drivers John Fitch of Mercedes-Benz, Phil Waters who had a chance to drive with Ferrari, and Sherwood Johnston.

Many blame the driver of the Jaguar team, Mike Hawthorne. Mercedes-Benz said in a semi-official statement that it was his intention to cause a crash in order to secure the win. They say he had cut in front of Macklin towards the pits which caused Macklin to take evasive action and slam into Pierre Levegh. Even today, the public is still divided on who was really responsible for the crash. Fitch also claimed that Mike Hawthorne had caused the crash with his abrupt turn into the pits.

Macklin later pressed charges on Hawthorne in 1958 following the publishing of Hawthorne’s book Challenge Me The Race in which he disclaimed any and all responsibility for the disaster. The case was left unresolved in 1959 after Mike Hawthorne died in a crash on the Guildford Bypass which ironically happened while he was attempting to overtake a Mercedes-Benz while driving his Jaguar.

Business Goes On

Over a decade later, Formula One racing becomes big business for entrepreneurs. In the 1970s, Bernie Ecclestone had changed the way that the industry handled commercial rights which helped transform the sport into the multibillion-dollar industry that we see today. In 1979 the Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile also known as FISA was formed which sparked a dispute with the Formula One Constructors’ Association also known as FOCA. The so called FISA-FOCA war went on throughout the very early 1980s. The dispute was later concluded in 1981 with the establishment of the Concorde Agreement.

The Ferrari Streak

Following McLaren’s dominance in the 1980s and 1990s, Ferrari won five consecutive championships from 2000-2004 with their German driver Michael Schumacher who as previously mentioned beat the record for most championships in 2003. Schumacher had also set the record for most Grand Prix wins at 91.