The Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai on Sunday will be Formula One’s 1,000th race. From the first race at a converted World War II airbase in rural England to this weekend’s 1,000th grand prix at the $240 million international circuit in Shanghai, Formula One has come a long way since it all began in 1950.
Silverstone held the first race 69 years ago and the British Grand Prix has remained, with the Italian GP, the only ever-present races on the calendar as the sport expanded to newer markets.
Formula One’s organisation was bought for $8 billion in 2017 by US media giant Liberty Media and is now listed on Wall Street – a far cry from the early days when tyre and oil companies supplied their products for free in return for having their logos on drivers’ overalls.
Here are 10 pivotal moments in the history of the sport:
The first Formula One world championship race held at Silverstone in England. The Alfa Romeo team dominated with Italian Giuseppe Farina on that May 1950 day. He went on to clinch the world championship four months later in his home country. A season now lasts more than twice as long.
About 13 years after the first race, Formula One got serious about safety with fireproof suits made compulsory and cockpits restructured so drivers can evacuate quickly in the event of an accident.
A new era for the sport began as Bernie Ecclestone bought the Brabham team. He went on to become the most influential figure in the history of the sport, reigning over it for more than four decades. The British businessman was for decades the ‘ringmaster’ of Formula One, before selling to current owners Liberty Media.
This was the year where the showdown between Ferrari’s Niki Lauda and McLaren’s James Hunt in a soaking wet Japan became an iconic moment. Lauda, who had suffered life-threatening injuries weeks earlier, decides it is too dangerous and pulled out, handing the title to Hunt. Their rivalry inspires the acclaimed Hollywood film Rush starring Chris Hemsworth as Hunt and Daniel Brühl as Lauda.
The sporting world was plunged into grief after triple world champion Ayrton Senna was killed on the track to the horror of millions of television spectators round the globe. One of the greatest drivers, he was only 34 when his Williams crashed at the San Marino Grand Prix. Austrian Roland Ratzenburger lost his life as well.
Their deaths led to wide-ranging changes to improve safety which meant there were no further fatalities until Jules Bianchi died in 2015 from head injuries sustained at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix – a tragedy which led to the development of the distinctive “halo” cockpit head protection system.
Racing great Juan Manuel Fangio died aged 84. The Argentine was the first star of the sport, winning five world championships in the 1950s. He will be forever remembered as a pioneering legend inspiring generations of drivers.
Formula One was roiled by a damaging “Spygate” scandal. Leading team McLaren were fined $100 million and effectively thrown out of the constructors’ championship for obtaining confidential information from rivals Ferrari.
The lights went on as F1 held its first night race in glitzy Singapore. The Marina Bay street grand prix in the heart of the Lion City quickly established itself as one of the circuit’s most glamorous races.
Michael Schumacher retired, aged 43, for the second and final time. The German left the sport as the most successful driver of all time, winning seven world titles. But just a year later he suffered a life-threatening brain injury in a skiing accident. He survived but has not been seen in public since.
His 20-year-old son Mick made his F1 debut as he completed 56 laps at the wheel of a Ferrari during a Formula One testing session in Bahrain earlier this month. The younsgter is expected to follow in his father;s footsteps.
Following his European Formula 3 title last year, Mick Schumacher made his Formula 2 debut on the same track at the weekend, finishing eighth and sixth in the two races.
He joined the Ferrari Driver Academy in January, entering into a partnership with the team that helped his father win five F1 championships.
In a massive change of guard, US-based Liberty Media took control of Formula One for just over $8 billion, signalling the end of the reign of the colourful Ecclestone and a new chapter for the sport. They are looking promote the sport extensively on new media, with a Nteflix series already out, and are looking to attract new audiences.
With inputs from AFP