Formula 1 then & now: from early 1900 to 2012

19 July 2012: Formula One. The reason why millions of fans and fanatics travel around the globe to watch their favorite teams and drivers compete in one grueling race. Hi tech machines, world class circuits, and of course oodles of glamour and high stakes; that’s what the F1 has become today. But it wasn’t such in the early days. Who would have thought that what started as a hobby for rich European playboys would become one of the biggest and highest grossing spectator sport in the world.

Italian driver Giuseppe Farina. Winner at Silverstone 1950 

Officially ‘Formula One’ started at Silverstone, England, in 1950. But it had its roots in the early road races which took place in France at the turn of the century. The ‘Formula’ in F1 refers to a set of rules that all drivers and their teams had to comply with in order to compete. The drivers fought in a grueling race to win a grand prize, and that’s why it was called the ‘Grand Prix’. The early races were unusually long distance even by today’s standards (upto 1200 kms) and the race tracks were designated stretches between two cities. Drivers used to be accompanied by their mechanics and often drivers and spectators were killed due to low safety standards and protection in early car designs. In the late 1920s, the sport still remained a hobby of a few who had money to splurge. By the 30’s, the races were dominated by the German marquees like Daimler and Benz, who introduced aerodynamics into car designs. At the onset of the Great Depression followed by World War II, racing was shelved for a few years as money dried up, but the idea was again rekindled in 1946 after the war. The dominance of the Germans gave way to the Italians, who ruled the race tracks in the early post-war years.

1950 German GP at Nurburgring

It was all fairly simple in the early days – powerful and light cars, brave drivers and loads of adventure. It was rather successful and enjoyed by spectators too as there was a lot of drama, regular crashes and even some deaths. No cutting edge technology, just pure adrenaline.

Things have changed since. F1 in the 21st century is now loaded with technology. The cars are no more the raw, wild machines they used to be. Today’s F1 car is the result of all that man has achieved in the field of automotive engineering & design. Millions of dollars are spent on R&D to improve performance by just a fraction of a second. New material for tires and chassis structures are constantly tested to make the cars lighter and faster, so that they can adapt to new circuits and weather conditions.

The modern F1 car is a single seater with the engine positioned behind the driver; and as per regulations cars must be constructed by the racing team themselves. They are made from composites of carbon fibre and have on-board cameras. Engines are of 2.4 litre V8 configuration from Cosworth and Ferrari; tires are from Pirelli; and electronic systems like DRS (Drag Reduction System) and KERS (Kinetic Energy Recuperation System) are incorporated to improve the aerodynamics and grip. DRS is a system in the rear spoiler of the car that flicks open to reduce drag.

A lot has evolved over the century, and specifically over the seven decades since the official F1 Grand Prix started. The cars are crammed with technology and the stakes are ridiculously high. Drivers earn up to US$ 15 million a year, and billions are invested to keep the sport up and running. What started as a form of pleasure and entertainment, has now become a full fledged business and a fledging industry with its own eco system. To an extent association with F1 has also become a show of economic and political supremacy among nations.

The 2012 Ferrari F1 car

With over 500 million television viewers, sponsors and big money naturally flow into this billion dollar enterprise. And millions of fans around the world hold their breath every fortnight as two dozen brave hearts spend a grueling 90 minutes on the track. And the top three amongst them end up at the podium and spray Mumm Cordon Rouge over each other to end the spectacle. Interestingly, since alcohol is banned in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi where two of the new tracks are located, winners are not allowed to spray champagne on the podium. Instead they use Waard – a traditional non-alcoholic drink made from rose water and pomegranates. But who cares if the fizz is missing as long as the money pours for the FIA!

Here are some more interesting facts about F1. How many did you know?
1. An F1 car can go from 0 to 200 kmph and back to 0 in just seven seconds.
2. F1 car engines are composed of about 5000 components that together generate 750 bhp and have a life span of only one race.

3. F1 cars are composed of about 80,000 components. These are to be designed with 100% accuracy and if in case there is an inaccuracy of even 0.1%, these cars are not allowed to go on the racing track.
4. The braking power of an F1 car is exceptionally high. At a speed of around 340 kmph, an F1 car can brake in less than 100 meters so that it can take a slow corner.

5. Over 1 kilometer of electric cable is used to connect about 100 sensors and actuators in the F1 cars in order to monitor them.
6. An F1 car weighs only about 550 kgs.
7. The seat in an F1 car is so crammed, the driver has to take off the steering wheel to get in and out of the car.
8. F1 car drivers burn approximately 600 kilocalories and lose about 2 kg of weight in one grand prix.
9. The highest speed of 375 km/h was recorded at Monza which is believed to be the fastest circuit of Formula One.
10. Race car tires are usually filled with nitrogen because it is lighter and has more consistent pressure.

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