Confusing Matters: F1’s False History

Formula ‘ONE’

Formula rules were applied to motor races in the same way that Group C rules applied to sports car racing in the 1980s, or Group 2 rules for touring car racing in the 1970s. It set an upper limit on a handful of regulations such as engine size and maximum race distance and left everything else, including car weight, open.

Relaxed rules allowed for all kinds of innovation, but notably meant there was no such thing as a “Formula 1 car”

So long as their engines were below a certain size, the cars could, therefore, be open or closed cockpit, open or closed wheeled, have a front, rear or mid-mounted engines, be RWD, FWD or 4WD and they did not even have to be single-seaters! This meant cars built for Formula 2 or Formula 3 spec racing and even two-seater sports cars were eligible providing they were not dangerously uncompetitive.

Before 1950, many races had actually been held under Formula 1 rules already. The formula was developed in 1947 and was designed to bring pre-war Formula A (up to 4.5l normally aspirated) and pre-war Voiturette (up to 1.5l supercharged) cars together in the same race to help revive interest in national and international motorsport following the Second World War.

Vehicles of all shapes, sizes and classes were able to race together, which was vital for the post-war revival. The 1930s had been an amazing decade of innovation, but the Second World War had brought it to a sudden stop. After the war, people realised that unless something was done, the very expensive pre-war machinery was going to lie obsolete in garages unable to be used. Meanwhile, the car industry had no money to develop new racing technology. This was the impetus behind the creation of the World Driver’s Championship and pre-war machinery turned up to most early races. The Alfa Romeo 158 that won Farina the title in 1950 had been designed in 1937 and raced in 1938/9, while Bob Gerard’s ERA A-Type was sixteen years old by the time it raced in the 1950 Monaco GP.

Formula 1’s restrictions began to tighten in the late-1950s and into the early-1960s, with the introduction of minimum car weights, minimum and maximum race distance and safety regulations such as rollbars. However, engines did not have to be normally aspirated, the cars didn’t need to be rear wheel drive, nor did cars have to have four wheels! This freedom allowed the introduction of the Lotus 56 Turbine car, the Tyrrell six-wheeler and the introduction of turbos. As can be demonstrated, Formula 1 was a very free formula right up until 1981.

Bob Gerard’s ERA was the oldest car ever entered into a Grand Prix

This brings up two major arguments against the idea of the “Formula 1 World Championship: 1950 to 2017”: Firstly, given F1 rules were created to encompass a wide variety of existing vehicles, any cars entered into a World Championship race between 1950 and 1980 are Grand Prix cars, not Formula 1 cars. Until quite late in this period, not all cars entered were designed to F1 regulations. For example, also racing at Monaco in 1950 was Harry Schell, driving a Cooper T12 fitted with a 1.1 litre JAP motorcycle engine. This was essentially a Formula 3 chassis with an engine that complied with Formula 2 rules. Then in 1959, Rodger Ward caused a stir by entering a sprintcar designed for dirt tracks into the 1959 US Grand Prix at Sebring. This was as far from the definition of a Formula 1 car as you could get, and yet all he had to do to comply with the rules was to down-tune his Offenhauser engine to 1.75 litres.

Secondly, not all of the World Championship races were Formula 1 races. The Indianapolis 500, which held a spot on the World Championship calendar for the first eleven seasons, never ran to Formula 1 rules. While 1950 and 1951 Grand Prix cars were eligible, from 1952, the rules changed to the extent that Indy roadsters could no longer enter into any of the other Grand Prix on the calendar, and the Grand Prix cars would have been outclassed. More importantly, all World Driver’s Championship races in 1952 and 1953 were under Formula 2 regulations. This was not a simple case of rewriting the Formula 1 rules to limit engine size, this was a complete adoption of a lower category’s rule set for the World Championship.

For completists, this has unfortunate consequences for the statistics. With no championship Formula 1 races for two seasons, the 1950-to-Present chronology of the championship is broken. Furthermore, Alberto Ascari can not be considered “double Formula One World Champion” as is written on his Wikipedia article, the BBC website and even on the Formula One website itself.

Formula 1 races for 4.5l cars were still held in 1952-3, but they were non-championship races and no points were awarded for them. (For comparison, imagine modern F1 cars disappearing and being replaced by GP2 cars for two seasons!)

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