Grand Prix racing originated in Europe. However, at its inception, the word ‘racing’ was somewhat of the misnomer. There were no tracks especially designed for cars to perform on. The first races were conducted over open roads. And the health of the roads was deplorable. Consequently, the objective was survival not speed. Since breakdowns were frequent, the winning criterion was the driver’s ability to navigate from the starting line to the finish line.
Nevertheless, car manufacturers were eager to have their cars participate, as a good performance was an important selling point.
In 1887, a French publication, ‘Le Velocipede’, organized an auto race, which is known as to be the first planned auto-racing event. However, only 1 driver entered.
Then in 1894, a Parisian newspaper, organized a motor race to be run from Paris to Rouen, a distance of eighty miles.
In 1906, the auto Club de France (ACF) organized the first race to be called the Grand Prix. It had been stepped on a 1,260-kilometer triangular shaped circuit based in Le Mans. Each lap was 105 miles and a driver had to run six laps every day. Twelve manufacturers participated and there were thirty-two entries. A Hungarian named Ferene Szisz won.
His win was related to the fact that his car was equipped with detachable wheel rims that had been invented by Michelin. These drastically reduced the amount of time spent for each tire change.
Throughout the decade, races, for the most part, were run on closed circuit roads. There were three exceptions. Great Britain completed the Brooklands course in 1907. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened in 1909, followed by the Autodromo Nazionale Monza in Italy in 1922.
Races conducted at this time were also very nationalistic. It had been not unusual for a country to set up its race with its own individual rules. Then just prior to World War I, a formula of rules appeared. This is based on the size and weight of the engine. However, it wasn’t universal.
Then, in 1924, the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus was formed with the Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI). Power to regulate Grand Prix as well as others kinds of international racing was granted to the CSI.
Other important changes occurred prior to World War II. In 1933 at the Monaco Grand Prix drivers were chosen by timed qualifying runs rather than the luck of any draw. In 1925, the first World Championship happened.
Towards the finish of the 1920’s, Italian cars took over the lead from the French cars and Germany began to enter unique vehicles engineered specifically for racing including the Karl Benz ‘Teardrop.’
Between 1935 and 1939, Germany won all but three of the official Championship Grand Prix races.
Cars were now single seaters, as they no longer carried a riding mechanic.
After World War II, the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus reorganized and became the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). The Formula One with a World Championship for drivers was created. The Association also established a points system, which awarded championship status to seven races. The Indianapolis 500 was one of the seven. Italian cars and Italian drivers took the lead with Giuseppe Farina in an Alfa Romeo being the first to cross the final line in the first World Championship race. A Ferrari was entered in the second race that took place in Monaco. Ferrari continues to compete in 2008 and is really the only automobile manufacturer to compete throughout the annals of the sport.
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