The history of Formule 1

Formula 1, officially the FIA ​​Formula One World Championship, is the highest class in formula racing. This branch of motorsport involves racing in cars with open wheel arches specially developed for this purpose. Formula 1 is also more commonly seen as the highest class in motorsport.

The first world championship was held in 1950. Over the years, the sport developed technologically and various innovations were introduced in racing, including wings, the so-called wing car and the turbo engine. Some of these developments compromised security and were banned. Also in the context of safety, there were developments such as the monocoque, the Head and Neck Support system and the Halo, a protective bar over the cockpit. The developments drove costs up to great heights.

Max Verstappen - Red Bull racing team

Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher are counted among the most successful drivers. They have both won seven world championships in 2021. Throughout history, seven women have competed as drivers in Formula 1. The new generation of drivers are the Dutchman Max Verstappen and the Monegasque Charles Leclerc. Max drives for Red Bull and Charles drives for Ferrari.


Formula 1 has its roots in Grand Prix Racing of the 1920s and 1930s. The “formula” in the name refers to a set of rules that all participants and cars must comply with. The creation of the new Formula 1 class was decided in 1946, after the end of the Second World War. Several races were already held that year, but the World Drivers’ Championsship only became official in 1947. The first Championship race was held at Silverstone in Great Britain in 1950. The Constructors’ Championship followed in 1959. National Championships existed in Great Britain and South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. Until the eighties of the twentieth century, races were organized outside the championship calendar. However, due to rising costs, this was no longer commercially feasible and this phenomenon disappeared in 1983.

1950–1958: Beginning of the Championship

The first Formula 1 World Championship was won in 1950 by the Italian Giuseppe Farina in his Alfa Romeo Alfetta 159. It is remarkable that Alfa Romeo won all the victories during this first championship. He won by a small margin from his Argentine teammate Juan Manuel Fangio. Fangio later won the world title in 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957 and was only interrupted in his winning streak by an injury. Fangio’s record of five world titles stood for 45 years until German driver Michael Schumacher won his sixth title in 2003. Although Briton Stirling Moss often competed for the title, he was never able to win it and is regarded as the best driver who never became a champion.

This period was dominated by teams run by car manufacturers: Alfa Romeo, Scuderia Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Maserati, all of which were already active in racing before the Second World War. The first seasons were mainly driven with cars from before the war, such as the Alfa Romeo Alfetta 159. The cars had the front engine and had a 1.5 liter engine with a compressor or a 4.5 liter engine without a compressor. It was decided to drive cars to Formula 2 car specifications in 1952 and 1953 because of fears that not enough Formula 1 cars would be available. When it was decided in 1954 to return to Formula 1 cars, this time with 2.5 liter engines, Mercedes-Benz introduced the advanced W196, which featured innovations such as a streamlined body and fuel injection. Mercedes went on to win the Drivers’ Championship for two years in a row before retiring from racing after the 1955 Le Mans disaster.

1959–1980: Technical Progress

The first major technological advance was the transfer of the engine to the center of the car by Cooper, after successfully applying this concept in Formula 3. Australian Jack Brabham proved the superiority of this technique by being world champion in 1959, 1960 and 1966. to become. In 1961, the engine was centered on all cars.

The first British World Champion was Mike Hawthorn. He drove a Ferrari and took the championship in 1958. When Colin Chapman entered Formula 1 as a designer and later as founder of Team Lotus, British Racing Green’s dominance began. With Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, John Surtees, Jack Brabham, Graham Hill and Denny Hulme, British teams and drivers won twelve world titles between 1962 and 1973.

In 1962 Lotus introduced the aluminum monocoque as a replacement for the hitherto usual spaceframe. This turned out to be the biggest breakthrough since moving the engine. In 1968 Lotus painted its cars in “Imperial Tobacco” livery, introducing sponsorship into the sport.

In the late 1960s, aerodynamics began to play an increasingly important role in the design of cars. In 1968, aerodynamic wings, the so-called spoilers, which exert downward air pressure on the front and rear of the cars, were fitted for the first time.

In 1977, two new concepts saw the light of day that would shake up Formula 1 thoroughly. Lotus came up with the first wing car in which the bottom plate and the side pontoons were profiled like an inverted aircraft wing, so that a negative pressure was created at the bottom of the car. The result was a car that was pressed so hard against the road surface that much higher cornering speeds could be reached. The force of the downforce was so high that the springs needed to maintain an even ground height (necessary to obtain the ground effect) were so hard that the absorption of shocks was entirely at the expense of the tires. During the 1978 season, Lotus was unapproachable thanks to its innovation and from 1979 all other teams followed suit.

Renault, which had been active in endurance racing for some time, decided to take the step to Formula 1 and opted for a pressure-charged 1500 cc engine instead of the classic 3 liter atmospheric power source. This so-called turbo engine had a difficult initial period, but from 1979 it became reliable in use and races were won with it. One by one, the other teams eventually opted for the turbo as well and this would rule until the end of the 1980s.

The introduction of the wingcar and the turbo made the cars so powerful and fast that safety was compromised. Moreover, these technical developments drove up costs. Both were therefore eventually restricted by regulation changes.

1981–2000: Big Business

Bernie Ecclestone began rearranging Formula 1’s commercial rights in the 1970s. He is often credited with making Formula 1 the multi-billion dollar industry it is today. After Ecclestone took over the Brabham team in late 1971, he became a member of the Formula One Constructors’ Association (FOCA) and became its president in 1978. Where circuits first approached and paid teams separately, Ecclestone convinced the teams to present themselves together. A track could get all or nothing with the track having to leave the off-track advertising to Ecclestone and his team.

The formation of the Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA) in 1979 sparked the FISA-FOCA war. During this period, FISA President Jean-Marie Balestre often clashed with FOCA over television rights revenues and technical regulation. The result was the Concorde Agreement of 1981 in which the two organizations divided power. FISA retained control of the sporting and technical aspects of the discipline and FOCA acquired the television rights. The agreement prevented the setting up of an alternative championship and ensured technical stability for the teams as rule changes were announced sufficiently in advance.

FISA banned the aerodynamics that “sucked” the car to the road in 1983. However, by then the engine was already equipped with turbochargers and that was all the technology needed to be competitive. In 1986 a BMW engine with a turbo showed a pressure of 5.5 bar. This implies an estimated power of more than 1300 hp. The following year, a maximum turbo pressure of 4.0 bar was set, bringing the power to around 1,100 hp. These cars are the most powerful open-wheel cars ever to hit the track. The FIA ​​later curtailed the engines even further by reducing the fuel tank size in 1984, further reducing the pressure in 1988 and completely banning turbochargers in 1989.

The development of electronic driver assistance began in the 1980s. Lotus went on to develop an active suspension which was first used in 1982 on the Lotus 91 Formula 1 car. In 1987 this system was perfected and Ayrton Senna won the Monaco Grand Prix with it. Over the next decade, electronic assistance became a matter of course for Formula 1. With semi-automatic gearboxes and traction control in the cars, the FIA ​​was widely criticized for the fact that victory depended more on the electronics than the driver’s skill. This led to the banning of most of this aid in 1994.

In 1992 the Concorde Agreement was renewed. It was drafted for a third time in 1997 and expired on the last day of 2007.

On the track, McLaren and Williams dominated Formula 1 in the 1980s and 1990s. Powered by Porsche, Honda and Mercedes-Benz, McLaren won 16 championships during that period, while Williams also won 16 world championships thanks to engines from Ford, Honda and Renault. The rivalry between legends Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost came to a head in 1988 and continued until 1993 when Prost announced his retirement from racing. Senna was killed in an accident at the San Marino Grand Prix on May 1, 1994, making it the last fatality in Formula 1 until 2014 (apart from two marshals who died in 2000 and 2001). The day before Senna’s accident, there was also a fatality to be regretted, the Austrian Roland Ratzenberger. Since then, many rule changes have been made to improve driver safety. The biggest change was the introduction of the grooved tires in favor of the smooth tires or slicks. This should reduce cornering speed and thus reduce the risk of accidents. Yet in 2014 there was another fatal accident, Frenchman Jules Bianchi who died in 2015 as a result of the crash, while in 2013 Spain’s María de Villota died probably due to the neurological consequences of a crash during a Formula 1 test drive in 2012.

From 1984 to 2008, only drivers of the “big four” (Williams, McLaren, Renault (formerly Benetton) and Ferrari) have won a world championship. Due to technological advances in the 1990s, the costs of Formula 1 rose rapidly. The high costs and strength of the large teams have meant that the smaller teams have struggled both sportingly and financially to stay afloat. According to Jordan’s former team principal, Eddie Jordan, the days of competitive private teams are definitely over.

2000–2007: Return of Manufacturers

Michael Schumacher and Scuderia Ferrari won an unprecedented five drivers’ and six constructors’ titles in a row between 1999 and 2004. Schumacher broke many records including those for number of wins (91), wins in a season (13 out of 18) and most world championships for a driver (7). His hegemony ended on September 25, 2005 when Renault driver Fernando Alonso became the youngest world champion to date. In 2006 Renault again won both titles with Alonso. Schumacher retired from Formula 1 at the end of 2006 after 16 years of racing. He made a comeback in 2010 and drove at Mercedes GP until 2012.

During this period, the rules were regularly adapted to improve the action on the track and reduce costs. Team orders, where one driver gives another (of the same team) a distinct advantage in a race, has been legal since its inception in 1950. However, these were banned in 2002 when some actions, which clearly left a driver behind, received negative publicity. Qualification, the points system and the useful life of tires and engines were also addressed and changed. A “tire war” between suppliers Bridgestone and Michelin resulted in faster lap times, but also left Michelin’s tires unsafe at the 2005 United States Grand Prix and only the three teams scheduled to start at Bridgestone. In 2006 Max Mosley made clear his vision for the “green” future of Formula 1, in which energy saving would be central. From 2007, the tire war ended because Michelin withdrew as a supplier.

Since 1983, Formula 1 has been dominated by specialist racing teams such as Williams, McLaren and Benetton. These used engines supplied by car manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Renault and Ford. Beginning in 2000, with Ford’s acquisition of Stewart, manufacturers returned as race teams for the first time since 1985. Ford entered the team under the name of Jaguar Racing to raise awareness of the brand. The engines were supplied by Cosworth, which was also Ford owned at the time. Later in 2002 Toyota followed by setting up a completely new team. In 2006, BMW and Honda joined by taking over the existing Sauber and BAR-Honda teams. In the same year, the works teams Renault, BMW, Toyota, Honda and Ferrari dominated the sport, occupying five of the top six places in the Constructors’ Championship. McLaren came in third, but the team’s status is debatable. At the time, 40% of team shares were owned by Mercedes-Benz.

Despite the factory teams’ large budgets, most were not very successful. For example, after four years without results, Ford gave up and sold its Jaguar Racing team to energy drink manufacturer Red Bull in 2004. Only Renault was really successful as a works team during this period with two constructors’ titles. BMW did not do too bad in its short four-year existence, with a second and third place in the constructors’ championship. The other factory teams played no more than a role on the margins. It is said that Toyota had the largest budget of around £300 million during these years. This team has proven that large budgets are no guarantees for good results. Toyota has never finished first in a race and never finished fourth in the 2005 Constructors’ Championship.

2007–2020: Economic stagnation

In the summer of 2007, the credit crisis started in the US. The crisis spread throughout the world economy in the course of 2007/2008. Formula 1 also suffered from this. Several sponsors did not renew or terminate their contracts. An example of this was ING as the main sponsor of the Renault team, although this also had to do with Renault’s riot over Nelson Piquet Junior in the Singapore 2008 race: Crashgate. Williams was also hit hard in terms of sponsorship. In one year, three major factory teams left the sport. Honda was the first to announce that it would stop with its team effective December 5, 2008. In 2009, Toyota followed on November 4 and BMW Sauber on November 27. The reason for this was that the manufacturers could no longer justify the large budgets of the teams in times of economic recession. Another factor for these three manufacturers was the fact that they had been active for several years without appealing results and that they could not justify this due to declining sales results. For this reason, among other things, efforts are being made within the sport to reduce costs. Because of this, a number of teams attempted to enter the championship in 2010, four of which were admitted. With this, a Mercedes-Benz factory team returned.

Racing and Strategy

A Formula 1 grand prix lasts a full weekend and starts with two practice sessions on Friday (except in Monaco where practices are on Thursday) and a free practice session on Saturday. During practice on Friday, a third driver may be allowed to get behind the wheel of one of the two cars. After practice on Saturday, a qualifying session will be held which will determine the starting order for the race on Sunday.


The championship has used different ways over the years to determine who was the fastest. The current qualification system is described below.

They work according to the principle of a knock-out qualification system. This determines the order in which the race will start on Sunday. This qualification is split into three phases, called Q1, Q2 and Q3. The name is an English abbreviation for qualification 1, 2 and 3.

If a rider interferes with another rider during qualifying, the race director will decide what the penalty will be for this rider (eg a “grid penalty”). All laps started before the finish flag falls (at the end of Q1,2, or 3) may be completed and count towards qualifying.

In the first phase (Q1) all cars are allowed on the track for eighteen minutes. Only the fastest time per driver counts and the number of laps allowed is unlimited. At the end of the first session, the five slowest drivers are eliminated. These cars will occupy the last five starting positions. (If a driver sets a time that is more than 7% slower than the fastest time set in Q1, he will not be allowed to participate in the race. However, if the team can prove that they were within the 7% margin in practice, they can pardons. This last rule is known as the “107% rule.”)

The remaining fifteen cars drive a second session (Q2) of fifteen minutes. In this session, five cars are again excluded in the same way as in the first session.
In the third and final session (Q3) the drivers have twelve minutes in this so-called “Poleposition shootout”. At the end of qualifying, the times are compared and the positions on the grid determined.

The ten drivers who took part in Q3 must start the next day in the race on the same type of tires with which they set the fastest time in the second qualifying (Q2) (unless the race is labeled a “rain” race by the race management), the other drivers may have a different type of tire fitted if they wish.

Sprint Qualification

Sprint qualifying has been held at some Grands Prix since 2021. These weekends include a 60-minute free practice session on Friday and a full qualifying session. The result of the qualification determines the starting grid of the sprint qualification. On Saturday there is still a free practice of 60 minutes before the 100 kilometer sprint qualifying. The points to be earned in the sprint qualifier are 3 points for the winner, 2 points for the runner-up, and 1 point for the runner-up.

The normal main race will be held on Sunday, the starting position of which will be determined by the result of the sprint qualification.


In 2021 it was still called “Sprint Qualifying”, but since 2022 the name has been officially changed to “Sprint”. These weekends include a 60-minute free practice session on Friday and a full qualifying session. In contrast to 2021, the result of qualifying determines which driver will be awarded pole position and therefore does not only determine the starting position of the sprint. On Saturday there is still a free practice of 60 minutes before the 100 kilometer sprint. Unlike 2021, the first eight drivers now receive points: There are 8 points for the winner, 7 points for the number two and so on until 1 point for number eight. The normal main race will be held on Sunday, the starting position of which is determined by the result of the sprint.


The race begins with a warm-up lap after which the cars line up on the starting grid in the order in which they qualified. If a car stalls prior to the warm-up lap and the entire field has passed it, this driver must start at the end of the field. If he manages to keep at least one car behind him, he may return to his original position. A driver can also choose to start from the pit lane if problems arise with the car at the last minute. He must then wait until the entire field has passed the pit lane before he is allowed to start the race. The schedule of the drivers’ starting positions is referred to as the “grid”.

A light system above the track signals the start of the race. The distance of a grand prix is ​​equal to the smallest number of laps exceeding 305 km (exception: 260 km in Monaco). A grand prix may also not last longer than two hours. In practice, a Formula 1 race lasts an average of 90 minutes. During the race, a driver may stop one or more times in the pit lane to change tires or make repairs (but no longer to refuel from 2010). This is called a “pit stop”. Carrying out tire changes and repairs in the pits requires precision work. That is why it is important that this is practiced well before a race, so that tire changes and minor repairs or adjustments can be carried out as efficiently as possible.
the different types of tires available in 2017, at the time 5 different dry weather tires: from left to right. the five types from soft to hard, the intermediate (green), and the full-wet band (blue)

The tire manufacturer (this is Pirelli in 2020) has developed three (in terms of hardness) different types of tires for Formula 1 (hard, medium, soft) from which the tire manufacturer selects the three most suitable dry weather versions for a race weekend. The dry weather tires have a color on the side, respectively white, yellow and red. Drivers are required to use two different types (of the three available) during a race.

If it rains and it is necessary to switch to so-called ‘rain tyres’, two types of tires are available: the full-wet (complete wet tyre) and the intermediate (cross between the profile-less dry-weather tire (slick) and the full-wet). In that case, the tire choice is completely free and theoretically the entire race could be run on one set of wet tires without a pit stop.

However, if, due to weather conditions or an accident, the track is so bad that the cars cannot drive properly (as in Canada and Monaco in 2011, and South Korea in 2010), the race will be stopped and the track will be stopped. is under water. Under the red flag, a driver may have new tires fitted, emergency repairs and a sanitary stop. However, it is prohibited to make any adjustments to the car’s set-up.

The drivers receive information during the race with flag and light signals, among other things. For example, a yellow flag means that there is danger and overtaking is prohibited. A blue flag means that a driver is warned that a faster car with a lap lead is behind him and that he must pull over/make room for it to pass.


Since 1984 it has been mandatory for all teams to build the chassis of their car themselves, making the term “team” and “constructor” interchangeable. This requirement distinguishes Formula 1 from, for example, the IndyCar Series where chassis can be purchased and GP2 where all cars must be equal.

During the debut season of 1950, eighteen teams competed for the title, but due to the high costs, many quickly dropped out. In fact, after a few years, the field had shrunk so much that Formula 2 cars were used to fill the gaps. Ferrari is the only active team that has competed continuously in all seasons since 1950. The team holds the record for the highest number of constructors’ titles (sixteen).

Companies such as Climax, Repco, Cosworth, Hart, Judd and Supertec were not tied to a team but sold engines to teams that did not have the financial means to develop them themselves. It has been rare for private teams to manufacture their own engines as this has generally been less successful. Cosworth was the last independent engine supplier but lost its last customers in 2006. But in 2010, Cosworth returned as engine supplier for the Williams, HRT F1 Team, Lotus and Virgin Racing teams. The large budgets of the existing manufacturers made it no longer attractive to buy engines from third parties. The large teams spend an estimated 100 to 200 million euros per year on the development and construction of their engines.

In 2007, for the first time since the 1984 regulations, two teams used a chassis built by another. Super Aguri used the 2006 Honda F1 chassis and Scuderia Toro Rosso used the same chassis that Red Bull Racing used that year. The chassis of Toro Rosso and Red Bull was not built by either team. The chassis was built by a subsidiary of Red Bull called Red Bull Technology. In this way they tried to circumvent the regulations. Super Aguri was virtually owned by Honda and Red Bull Racing owned 50% of Toro Rosso. Although Spyker F1 protested, this was refused. This decision caught the attention of Prodrive who also wanted to enter Formula 1.

While little is known about the teams’ budgets, it is estimated that they range between $66 and $400 million per team.

Starting a new team in the Championship requires a payment of £25 million, which the team will be reimbursed over the course of the season. As a result, it is often more attractive for newcomers to take over an existing team and thus avoid paying.