The Formula One series originated with the European Grand Prix Motor Racing (q.v. for pre-1947 history) of the 1920s and 1930s. The formula is a set of rules that all participants’ cars must meet. Formula One was a new formula agreed upon after World War II during 1946, with the first non-championship races being held that year. A number of Grand Prix racing organisations had laid out rules for a world championship before the war, but due to the suspension of racing during the conflict, the World Drivers’ Championship was not formalised until 1947. The first world championship race was held at Silverstone, United Kingdom in 1950. A championship for constructors followed in 1958. National championships existed in South Africa and the UK in the 1960s and 1970s. Non-championship Formula One events were held for many years, but due to the increasing cost of competition, the last of these occurred in 1983. On 26 November 2017, Formula One unveiled its new logo following the 2017 season finale in Abu Dhabi during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit. The new logo replaces F1’s iconic ‘flying one’, which has been the sport’s trademark since 1993.
Return of racing
Juan Manuel Fangio’s 1951 title-winning Alfa Romeo 159
The first World Championship for Drivers was won by Italian Giuseppe Farina in his Alfa Romeo in 1950, narrowly defeating his Argentine teammate Juan Manuel Fangio. However, Fangio won the title in 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956, and 1957 (His record of five World Championship titles stood for 45 years until German driver Michael Schumacher took his sixth title in 2003), his streak interrupted (after an injury) by two-time champion Alberto Ascari of Ferrari. Although the UK’s Stirling Moss was able to compete regularly, he was never able to win the world championship, and is now widely considered to be the greatest driver never to have won the title. Fangio, however, is remembered for dominating Formula One’s first decade and has long been considered the “Grand Master” of Formula One.
This period featured teams managed by road car manufacturers Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Maserati; all of whom had competed before the war. The first seasons were run using pre-war cars like Alfa’s 158. They were front-engined, with narrow tyres and 1.5-litre supercharged or 4.5-litre normally aspirated engines. The 1952 and 1953 World Championships were run to Formula Two regulations, for smaller, less powerful cars, due to concerns over the paucity of Formula One cars available. When a new Formula One, for engines limited to 2.5 litres, was reinstated to the world championship for 1954, Mercedes-Benz introduced the advanced W196, which featured innovations such as desmodromic valves and fuel injection as well as enclosed streamlined bodywork. Mercedes drivers won the championship for two years, before the team withdrew from all motorsport in the wake of the 1955 Le Mans disaster.
An era of British dominance was ushered in by Mike Hawthorn and Vanwall’s championship wins in 1958, although Stirling Moss had been at the forefront of the sport without ever securing the world title. Between Hawthorn, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, John Surtees and Graham Hill, British drivers won nine Drivers’ Championships and British teams won fourteen Constructors’ Championship titles between 1958 and 1974. The iconic British Racing Green Lotus, with a revolutionary aluminium-sheet monocoque chassis instead of the traditional space-frame design, was the dominant car, and in 1968 the team broke new boundaries when they were the first to carry advertising on their cars.
Stirling Moss’s Lotus 18 at the Nürburgring during 1961
The first major technological development, Bugatti’s re-introduction of mid-engined cars (following Ferdinand Porsche’s pioneering Auto Unions of the 1930s), occurred with the Type 251, which was unsuccessful. Australian Jack Brabham, world champion during 1959, 1960, and 1966, soon proved the mid-engined design’s superiority. By 1961, all regular competitors had switched to mid-engined cars. The Ferguson P99, a four-wheel drive design, was the last front-engined F1 car to enter a world championship race. It was entered in the 1961 British Grand Prix, the only front-engined car to compete that year.
During 1962, Lotus introduced a car with an aluminium-sheet monocoque chassis instead of the traditional space-frame design. This proved to be the greatest technological breakthrough since the introduction of mid-engined cars. During 1968, Lotus painted Imperial Tobacco livery on their cars, thus introducing sponsorship to the sport.
Aerodynamic downforce slowly gained importance in car design from the appearance of aerofoils during the late 1960s. During the late 1970s, Lotus introduced ground-effect aerodynamics (previously used on Jim Hall’s Chaparral 2J during 1970) that provided enormous downforce and greatly increased cornering speeds. So great were the aerodynamic forces pressing the cars to the track (up to five times the car’s weight), extremely stiff springs were needed to maintain a constant ride height, leaving the suspension virtually solid, depending entirely on the tyres for any small amount of cushioning of the car and driver from irregularities of the road surface.
Beginning in the 1970s, Bernie Ecclestone rearranged the management of Formula One’s commercial rights; he is widely credited with transforming the sport into the multibillion-dollar business it now is. When Ecclestone bought the Brabham team during 1971 he gained a seat on the Formula One Constructors’ Association and during 1978 he became its president. Previously, the circuit owners controlled the income of the teams and negotiated with each individually, however Ecclestone persuaded the teams to “hunt as a pack” through FOCA. He offered Formula One to circuit owners as a package, which they could take or leave. In return for the package almost all that was required was to surrender trackside advertising.
The formation of the Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA) during 1979 set off the FISA–FOCA controversy, during which FISA and its president Jean-Marie Balestre disputed repeatedly with FOCA over television revenues and technical regulations. The Guardian said of FOCA that Ecclestone and Max Mosley “used it to wage a guerrilla war with a very long-term aim in view”. FOCA threatened to establish a rival series, boycotted a Grand Prix and FISA withdrew its sanction from races. The result was the 1981 Concorde Agreement, which guaranteed technical stability, as teams were to be given reasonable notice of new regulations. Although FISA asserted its right to the TV revenues, it handed the administration of those rights to FOCA.
FISA imposed a ban on ground-effect aerodynamics during 1983. By then, however, turbocharged engines, which Renault had pioneered in 1977, were producing over 700 bhp (520 kW) and were essential to be competitive. By 1986, a BMW turbocharged engine achieved a flash reading of 5.5 bar pressure, estimated to be over 1,300 bhp (970 kW) in qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix. The next year power in race trim reached around 1,100 bhp (820 kW), with boost pressure limited to only 4.0 bar. These cars were the most powerful open-wheel circuit racing cars ever. To reduce engine power output and thus speeds, the FIA limited fuel tank capacity in 1984 and boost pressures in 1988 before banning turbocharged engines completely in 1989.
The development of electronic driver aids began during the 1980s. Lotus began to develop a system of active suspension, which first appeared during 1982 on the 91. By 1987, this system had been perfected and was driven to victory by Ayrton Senna in the Monaco Grand Prix that year. In the early 1990s other teams followed suit and semi-automatic gearboxes and traction control were a natural progression. The FIA, due to complaints that technology was determining the outcome of races more than driver skill, banned many such aids for 1994. This resulted in cars that were previously dependent on electronic aids becoming very “twitchy” and difficult to drive (particularly the Williams FW16). Many observers felt the ban on driver aids was in name only as they “proved difficult to police effectively”.
The teams signed a second Concorde Agreement during 1992 and a third in 1997, which expired on the last day of 2007.
On the track, the McLaren and Williams teams dominated the 1980s and 1990s, with Brabham also being competitive during the early part of the 1980s, winning two Drivers’ Championships with Nelson Piquet. Powered by Porsche, Honda, and Mercedes-Benz, McLaren won sixteen championships (seven constructors’ and nine drivers’) in that period, while Williams used engines from Ford, Honda, and Renault to also win sixteen titles (nine constructors’ and seven drivers’). The rivalry between racers Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost became F1’s central focus during 1988, and continued until Prost retired at the end of 1993. Senna died at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix after crashing into a wall on the exit of the notorious curve Tamburello, having taken over Prost’s lead drive at Williams that year. The FIA worked to improve the sport’s safety standards since that weekend, during which Roland Ratzenberger also lost his life in an accident during Saturday qualifying. No driver had died of injuries sustained on the track at the wheel of a Formula One car for 20 years, until the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix where Jules Bianchi collided with a recovery vehicle after aquaplaning off the circuit. Since 1994, three track marshals have lost their lives, one at the 2000 Italian Grand Prix, the second at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix and the third at the 2013 Canadian Grand Prix.
Since the deaths of Senna and Ratzenberger, the FIA has used safety as a reason to impose rule changes that otherwise, under the Concorde Agreement, would have had to be agreed upon by all the teams – most notably the changes introduced for 1998. This so-called ‘narrow track’ era resulted in cars with smaller rear tyres, a narrower track overall, and the introduction of grooved tyres to reduce mechanical grip. There were to be four grooves on the front (three in the first year) and rear that ran through the entire circumference of the tyre. The objective was to reduce cornering speeds and to produce racing similar to rainy conditions by enforcing a smaller contact patch between tyre and track. This, according to the FIA, was to promote driver skill and provide a better spectacle.
Results have been mixed as the lack of mechanical grip has resulted in the more ingenious designers clawing back the deficit with aerodynamic grip – pushing more force onto the tyres through wings and aerodynamic devices, which in turn has resulted in less overtaking as these devices tend to make the wake behind the car ‘dirty’ (turbulent), preventing other cars from following closely due to their dependence on ‘clean’ air to make the car stick to the track. The grooved tyres also had the unfortunate side effect of initially being of a harder compound to be able to hold the grooved tread blocks, which resulted in spectacular accidents in times of aerodynamic grip failure as the harder compound could not grip the track as well.
Drivers from McLaren, Williams, Renault (formerly Benetton), and Ferrari, dubbed the “Big Four”, won every World Championship from 1984 to 2008. The teams won every Constructors’ Championship from 1979 to 2008 as well as placing themselves as the top four teams in the Constructors’ Championship in every season between 1989 and 1997, and winning every race but one (the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix) between 1988 and 1997. Due to the technological advances of the 1990s, the cost of competing in Formula One increased dramatically. This increased financial burdens, combined with the dominance of four teams (largely funded by big car manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz), caused the poorer independent teams to struggle not only to remain competitive, but to stay in business, and forced several teams to withdraw. Since 1990, twenty-eight teams have withdrawn from Formula One. This has prompted former Jordan owner Eddie Jordan to say that the days of competitive privateers are over.
Michael Schumacher and Ferrari won five consecutive Drivers’ Championships (2000–2004) and six consecutive Constructors’ Championships (1999–2004). Schumacher set many new records, including those for Grand Prix wins (91), wins in a season (thirteen of eighteen), and most Drivers’ Championships (seven). Schumacher’s championship streak ended on 25 September 2005 when Renault driver Fernando Alonso became Formula One’s youngest champion at that time, until Lewis Hamilton in 2008. During 2006, Renault and Alonso won both titles again. Schumacher retired at the end of 2006 after sixteen years in Formula One, but came out of retirement for the 2010 season, racing for the newly formed Mercedes works team, following the rebrand of Brawn GP.
During this period, the championship rules were changed frequently by the FIA with the intention of improving the on-track action and cutting costs. Team orders, legal since the championship started during 1950, were banned during 2002 after several incidents in which teams openly manipulated race results, generating negative publicity, most famously by Ferrari at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix. Other changes included the qualifying format, the points scoring system, the technical regulations, and rules specifying how long engines and tyres must last. A “tyre war” between suppliers Michelin and Bridgestone saw lap times fall, although at the 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, seven out of ten teams did not race when their Michelin tyres were deemed unsafe for use, leading to Bridgestone becoming the sole tyre supplier to Formula One for the 2007 season. During 2006, Max Mosley outlined a “green” future for Formula One, in which efficient use of energy would become an important factor.
Since 1983, Formula One had been dominated by specialist race teams like Williams, McLaren, and Benetton, using engines supplied by large car manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Renault, and Ford. Starting in 2000, with Ford’s creation of the largely unsuccessful Jaguar team, new manufacturer-owned teams entered Formula One for the first time since the departure of Alfa Romeo and Renault at the end of 1985. By 2006, the manufacturer teams—Renault, BMW, Toyota, Honda, and Ferrari—dominated the championship, taking five of the first six places in the Constructors’ Championship. The sole exception was McLaren, which at the time was part-owned by Mercedes Benz. Through the Grand Prix Manufacturers Association (GPMA), they negotiated a larger share of Formula One’s commercial profit and a greater say in the running of the sport.
Manufacturers’ decline and return of the privateers
Formula One in 2010.
In 2008 and 2009, Honda, BMW, and Toyota all withdrew from Formula One racing within the space of a year, blaming the economic recession. This resulted in the end of manufacturer dominance within the sport. The Honda F1 team went through a management buyout to become Brawn GP with the notable F1 designer Ross Brawn and Nick Fry running and owning the majority of the organisation. Brawn GP went through a painful size reduction, laying off hundreds of employees, but eventually won the year’s world championships with Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello. BMW F1 was bought out by the original founder of the team, Peter Sauber. The Lotus F1 Team were another, formerly manufacturer-owned team that has reverted to “privateer” ownership, together with the buy-out of the Renault team by Genii Capital investors in recent years. A link with their previous owners still survived however, with their car continuing to be powered by a Renault Power Unit until 2014.
McLaren also announced that it was to reacquire the shares in its team from Mercedes Benz (McLaren’s partnership with Mercedes was reported to have started to sour with the McLaren Mercedes SLR road car project and tough F1 championships which included McLaren being found guilty of spying on Ferrari). Hence, during the 2010 season, Mercedes Benz re-entered the sport as a manufacturer after its purchase of Brawn GP, and split with McLaren after 15 seasons with the team. This left Mercedes, McLaren, and Ferrari as the only car manufacturers in the sport, although both McLaren and Ferrari began as racing teams rather than manufacturers.
The three teams that debuted in 2010 (HRT, Lotus/Caterham and Virgin/Marussia/Manor) all disappeared within seven years of their debuts
To compensate for the loss of manufacturer teams, four new teams were accepted entry into the 2010 season ahead of a much anticipated ‘cost-cap’ (see below). Entrants included a reborn Team Lotus – which was led by a Malaysian consortium including Tony Fernandes, the boss of Air Asia; Hispania Racing – the first Spanish Formula One team; as well as Virgin Racing – Richard Branson’s entry into the series following a successful partnership with Brawn the year before. They were also joined by the US F1 Team, which planned to run out of the United States as the only non-European based team in the sport. Financial issues befell the squad before they even made the grid. Despite the entry of these new teams, the proposed cost-cap was repealed and these teams – who did not have the budgets of the midfield and top-order teams – ran around at the back of the field until they inevitably collapsed; HRT in 2012, Caterham (formerly Lotus) in 2014 and Manor (formerly Virgin then Marussia), having survived falling into administration in 2014, went under at the end of 2016.
A rule shake-up in 2014 meant Mercedes emerged as the dominant force, with Lewis Hamilton winning the championship closely followed by his main rival and teammate, Nico Rosberg, with the team winning 16 out of the 19 races that season (all other victories coming from Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull). 2014 also saw a financial crisis which resulted in the backmarker Marussia and Caterham teams being put into administration, alongside the uncertain futures of Force India and Sauber. Marussia returned under the Manor name in 2015, a season in which Ferrari were the only challengers to Mercedes, with Vettel taking victory in the three Grands Prix Mercedes did not win.
The 2016 season began in dominant fashion for Nico Rosberg, winning the first 4 Grands Prix. His charge was halted by Max Verstappen, who took his maiden win in Spain in his debut race for Red Bull. After that, the reigning champion Lewis Hamilton decreased the point gap between him and Rosberg to only one point, before taking the championship lead heading into the summer break. Following the break, the 1–2 positioning remained constant until an engine failure for Hamilton in Malaysia left Rosberg in a commanding lead that he would not relinquish in the 5 remaining races. Having won the title by a mere 5 points, Rosberg retired from Formula One at season’s end. The final team remaining from the 2010 new entries process, Manor Racing, withdrew from the sport following the 2016 season, having lost 10th in the Constructors’ Championship to Sauber with one race remaining, leaving the grid at 20 cars as Liberty Media took control of the series in the off-season.
Renault returned to the sport in 2016 (pictured with Palmer)
In 2016, Renault came back to the sport after buying back the Lotus F1 team and in 2018, Aston Martin became Red Bull’s title sponsor, indicating that the manufacturers are starting to come back to the sport.
The battle for control of Formula One was contested between the Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA), at the time an autonomous subcommittee of the FIA, and FOCA (the Formula One Constructors’ Association).
The beginnings of the dispute are numerous, and many of the underlying reasons may be lost in history. The teams (excepting Ferrari and the other major manufacturers – Renault and Alfa Romeo in particular) were of the opinion that their rights and ability to compete against the larger and better funded teams were being negatively affected by a perceived bias on the part of the controlling organisation (FISA) toward the major manufacturers.
In addition, the battle revolved around the commercial aspects of the sport (the FOCA teams were unhappy with the disbursement of proceeds from the races) and the technical regulations which, in FOCA’s opinion, tended to be malleable according to the nature of the transgressor more than the nature of the transgression.
The war culminated in a FOCA boycott of the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix months later. In theory, all FOCA teams were supposed to boycott the Grand Prix as a sign of solidarity and complaint at the handling of the regulations and financial compensation (and extreme opposition to the accession of Balestre to the position of FISA president: both Colin Chapman of Lotus and Frank Williams of Williams stated clearly that they would not continue in Formula One with Balestre as its governor).[original research?] In practice, several of the FOCA teams backed out of the boycott, citing “sponsor obligations”. Notable among these were the Tyrrell and Toleman teams.
During the 2009 season of Formula One, the sport was gripped in a governance crisis. The FIA President Max Mosley proposed numerous cost cutting measures for the following season, including an optional budget cap for the teams; teams electing to take the budget cap would be granted greater technical freedom, adjustable front and rear wings and an engine not subject to a rev limiter. The Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) believed that allowing some teams to have such technical freedom would have created a ‘two-tier’ championship, and thus requested urgent talks with the FIA. However, talks broke down and FOTA teams announced, with the exception of Williams and Force India, that ‘they had no choice’ but to form a breakaway championship series.
Bernie Ecclestone was the Chief Executive of the Formula One Group, and is known as the “F1 Supremo”.
On 24 June, an agreement was reached between Formula One’s governing body and the teams to prevent a breakaway series. It was agreed teams must cut spending to the level of the early 1990s within two years; exact figures were not specified, and Max Mosley agreed he would not stand for re-election to the FIA presidency in October. Following further disagreements after Max Mosley suggested he would stand for re-election, FOTA made it clear that breakaway plans were still being pursued. On 8 July, FOTA issued a press release stating they had been informed they were not entered for the 2010 season, and an FIA press release said the FOTA representatives had walked out of the meeting. On 1 August, it was announced FIA and FOTA had signed a new Concorde Agreement, bringing an end to the crisis and securing the sport’s future until 2012.