WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP GRAND PRIX MOTOR RACING
UP TO 1949
started in 1894 when a French newspaper organised a “run” over the 78¾ miles
The first home was Count Jules-Albert de Dion in his big De Dion steamer at an average of 12m.p.h. but was disqualified for carrying a “stoker” and not a “mechanic” as stipulated in the rules!!
Count Jules-Albert de Dion
The “win” was giving to Georges Lemaître in a Peugeot.
first proper race wouldn’t be until the following year when the newly formed
Automobile Club of France ran one from
1902 the average had risen to 54.5mph. when Charles Jarrott
won a 318 mile race in
Races were organised to run from city to city and attracted lots of spectators, many of whom had never seen cars racing before, and were completely unaware of the short time it takes a car travelling at 100mph to cover the ground. In 1903 the French Government stopped the Paris to Madrid race at Bordeaux after spectators had been killed strolling across the road in the path of on-coming cars, and drivers had died in crashes caused while trying to overtake blind in the clouds of dust kicked up from the primitive road surfaces. Thereafter races were only permitted on closed roads and circuits.
saw the first race in
national automobile clubs in countries like the
is interesting to note that in 1908, we find that during the Targa Floria, a road race round
By the outbreak of the first world war in 1914 the concept of the Grand Prix race was well established with distances reduced round a circuit to about 330 miles and average speeds increased to around 70 mph in cars still weighing less than a ton and with engines no larger than 4.5 litres capacity. It all kicked off again in 1921 but as the economic depression gripped the western world during 1928 to 1933 car manufacturers could not afford to participate in Grands Prix and indeed, many went broke. It did herald an era of drivers with small factory-made cars like the Bugatti entering races which, although called Grands Prix the organisers tended not to be too strict about the rules just so they could get cars to run in their race! Bugatti’s only real rival at this time was Alfa Romeo. As the depression eased its grip other manufacturers needed to get the public to see how good their cars were and built pure racers. This concept was grasped by the Nazi Party of Germany who financed Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union (an amalgamation of Audi, Horch, D.K.W. and Wanderer. They had the famous engineer Dr Ferdinand Porsche working for them, who had some new ideas about cars, such as putting the engine at the back instead of the front as convention at the time dictated.)
Now cars were reaching 180mph on the straights and new rules were written to curb speeds and that too has been going on ever since! The international body at the time decided that limiting the weight to 14½ cwt (hundredweight) would do the trick as engines would have to be smaller. As usual the engineers overcame this rule by introducing, among other things, new lightweight metals and alloys. In 1934 Mercedes had a supercharged 8 cylinder engine of about 4 litres, and Auto Union turned up with a car made with aircraft fabric and with a 16 cylinder 5 litre supercharged engine mounted behind the driver. The rules had to be changed again as by 1937 the cars were still under the weight limit but being made of lighter materials and with bigger and lighter engines developing up to 600 h.p., they could do 200mph and were becoming difficult to handle. The new rules meant cars had to be at least 14½ cwt with engines of no more than 3 litres supercharged or 4.5 litres unsupercharged. Unfortunately the rule makers got it wrong and the cars were faster than ever! Not so down the straights perhaps, but better acceleration, road-holding, stability, and brakes, and easier to control, so faster through the corners. A trend that has continued to this day both in car building and rule making. With unlimited funds the German cars were unbeatable. And then came another war.
Not quite “Hot on the Heels” of the Second World War, people who had successfully managed not to lose their pre-war racing cars soon dusted them off and got them out of the garage and onto a track somewhere. Alfa Romeo, for example, had secreted a number of 158's in a cheese factory during the conflict! The old pre-war rules still applied and disused airfields like Silverstone, for example, became popular venues for races, as they offered ready-made, flat, asphalt surfaces with no dangerous lamp-posts, etc. for the wayward to collide with.