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Grand Prix motor racing has its roots in organised automobile racing that began in Francemarker as far back as 1894. It quickly evolved from a simple road race from one town to the next, to endurance tests for car and driver. Innovation and the drive of competition soon saw speeds exceeding , but because the races were held on open roads there were frequent accidents with the resulting fatalities of both drivers and spectators.

Grand Prix motor racing eventually evolved into formula racing, and Formula One can be seen as its direct descendant. Each event of the Formula One World Championships is still called a Grand Prix.

The origins of organised racing

Motor racing was started in Francemarker, as a direct result of the enthusiasm with which the French public embraced the motor car. Manufacturers were enthusiastic due to the possibility of using motor racing as a shop window for their cars. The first motor race took place on July 22, 1894 and was organised by Le Petit Journal, a Parisian newspaper. It was run over the eighty mile (128 km) distance between Parismarker and Rouenmarker. The race was won by Albert de Dion, although he was not awarded the prize for first place as his car required a stoker and the judges deemed this outside of their objectives.

In 1900, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., the owner of the New York Herald newspaper and the International Herald Tribune, established the Gordon Bennett Cup. He hoped that the creation of an international event would drive automobile manufacturers to improve their cars. Each country was allowed to enter up to three cars, which had to be fully built in the country that they represented and entered by that country's automotive governing body. International racing colours were established in this event. In the United Statesmarker, William Kissam Vanderbilt II launched the Vanderbilt Cup at Long Islandmarker, New Yorkmarker in 1904.

The first Grands Prix

The first event to carry the name Grand Prix was the Grand Prix de Paumarker in 1901, although this race was a one-off and the term Grand Prix was not in wide usage at the time.

The only race at the time to regularly carry the name Grand Prix was organised by the Automobile Club de France (ACF), of which the first took place in 1906. The circuit used, which was based in Le Mansmarker, was roughly triangular in shape, each lap covering 105 kilometres (65 miles). Six laps were to run each day, and each lap took approximately an hour using the relatively primitive cars of the day. The driving force behind the decision to race on a circuit - as opposed to racing on ordinary roads from town to town - was the Paris to Madrid road race of 1903. During this race a number of people, both drivers and pedestrians - including Marcel Renault - were killed and the race was stopped by the French authorities at Bordeaux. Further road based events were banned.

From the 32 entries representing 12 different automobile manufacturers, at the 1906 event, the Hungarianmarker-born Ferenc Szisz (1873–1944) won the race in a Renault. This race was regarded as the first Grand Épreuve, which meant "great trial" and the term was used from then on to denote up to the eight most important events of the year.

Races in this period were heavily nationalistic affairs, with a few countries setting up races of their own, but no formal championship tying them together. The rules varied from country to country and race to race, and typically centered around maximum (not minimum) weights in an effort to limit power by limiting engine size indirectly (10–15 L engines were quite common, usually with no more than four cylinders, and producing less than 50 hp). The cars all had mechanics on board as well as the driver, and no one was allowed to work on the cars during the race except for these two. A key factor to Renault winning this first Grand Prix was held to be the detachable wheel rims (developed by Michelin), which allowed tire changes to occur without having to lever the tire and tube off and back on the rim. Given the state of the roads, such repairs were frequent.

Racecourse development

For the most part, races were run over a lengthy circuit of closed public roads, not purpose-built private tracks. This was true of the Le Mansmarker circuit of the 1906 Grand Prix, as well as the Targa Floriomarker (run on of Sicilian roads), the German Kaiserpreis circuit in the Taunusmarker mountains, and the French circuit at Dieppemarker (a mere 48 miles (77 km)), used for the 1907 Grand Prix. The exceptions were the steeply banked egg-shaped near oval of Brooklandsmarker in Englandmarker, completed in 1907, the Indianapolis Motor Speedwaymarker, first used in 1909 with the first Indianapolis 500-Mile Racemarker in 1911, and the Autodromo Nazionale Monzamarker, in Italymarker, opened in 1922.

In 1908, the United States of Americamarker became the first country outside France to host an automobile race using the name Grand Prix (or Grand Prize), run at Savannah. The first Grand Épreuve outside of France was the 1921 Italian Grand Prixmarker held at Bresciamarker. This was quickly followed by Belgiummarker and Spainmarker (in 1924), and later spread to other countries. Strictly speaking, this still wasn't a formal championship, but a loose collection of races run to various rules. (A "formula" of rules had appeared just before World War I, finally based on engine size as well as weight, but it was not universally adopted.)

In 1924, however, many national motor clubs banded together to form the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR), whose Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI) was empowered to regulate Grand Prix and other forms of international racing. Since the inception of Grand Prix racing, competitions had been run in accordance with a strict formula based on engine size and vehicle weight. These regulations were virtually abandoned in 1928 with an era known as Formula Libre when race organisers decided to run their events with almost no limitations. From 1927 to 1934, the number of races considered to have Grand Prix status exploded, jumping from five events in 1927, to nine events in 1929, to eighteen in 1934 (the peak year before World War II).

The Pre-WW II years

Important individual and corporate names emerged during this time which would change the face of automobile design and engineering:

The 1933 Monaco Grand Prix was the first time in the history of the sport that the grid was determined by timed qualifying rather than the luck of a draw. All the competing vehicles were painted in the international auto racing colors: Beginning in 1934, the Germans stopped painting their cars, after the paint had been left off a Mercedes-Benz W25 in an effort to reduce weight. The unpainted metal soon had the German vehicles dubbed by the media as the "Silver Arrows".

1923 Karl Benz "Teardrop" racecar
French cars continued to dominate (led by Bugattimarker, but also including Delage and Delahaye) until the late 1920s, when the Italians (Alfa Romeo and Maseratimarker) began to beat the French cars regularly. At the time, the Germans engineered unique race vehicles as seen in the photo here with the Benz aerodynamic "teardrop" body introduced at the 1923 European Grand Prix at Monza by Karl Benz.

In the 1930s, however, nationalism entered a new phase when the Nazis encouraged Mercedes and Auto Union to further the glory of the Reich. (The government did provide some money to the two manufacturers, but the extent of the aid into their hands was exaggerated in the media; government subsidies amounted to perhaps 10% or less of the costs of running the two racing teams.) The two German marques utterly dominated the period from 1935 to 1939, winning all but three of the official Championship Grands Prix races run in those years. The cars by this time were single-seaters (the riding mechanic vanished in the early 1920s), with 8 to 16 cylinder supercharged engines producing upwards of on alcohol fuels.

As early as October 1923, the idea of an automobile championship was discussed at the annual autumn conference of the AIACR (Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus) in Paris. However, discussion centered around the increased interest in racing by manufacturers and holding the first European Grand Prix at Monza in 1923. The first World Championship took place in 1925, but it was for manufacturers only, consisting of four races of at least in length. The races that formed the first Constructors Championship were the Indianapolis 500marker, the European Grand Prixmarker, and the French and Italian Grands Prix. A European Championship, consisting of the major Grand Prix in a number of countries (named Grandes Epreuves) was instituted for drivers in 1935, and was competed every year until the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

The post-war years and Formula One

Related topics : Formula One, History of Formula One

In 1946, following World War II, only four races of Grand Prix calibre were held. Rules for a Grand Prix World Championship had been laid out before World War II, but it took several years afterward until 1947 when the old AIACR reorganised itself as the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile or "FIA" for short. Headquartered in Paris, at the end of the 1949 season it announced that for 1950 they would be linking several national Grands Prix to create Formula One with a World Championship for drivers, although due to economic difficulties the years 1952 and 1953 were actually competed in Formula Two cars. A points system was established and a total of seven races were granted championship status including the Indianapolis 500. The first World Championship race was held on 13 May at Silverstonemarker in the United Kingdommarker.

The Italians once again did well in these early World Championship races, both manufacturers and drivers. The first World Champion was Giuseppe Farina, driving an Alfa Romeo. Ferrari appeared at the second World Championship race, in Monaco, and has the distinction of being the only manufacturer to compete throughout the entire history of the World Championship, still competing in 2009.

Grandes Épreuves by season

Note : For 1950 onwards, see List of Formula One Grands Prix. Italics denote that the race was also known as the European Grand Prixmarker.


Race 1906 1907 1908 1912 1913 1914
1 French French French French French French


Race 1921 1922 1923 1924 1925 1926 1927 1928 1929
1 French French Indy 500 Indy 500 Indy 500 Indy 500 Indy 500 Indy 500 Indy 500
2 Italian Italian French French Belgian French French Italian French
3 Italian Italian French San Sebastián Spanish
4 Italian British Italian
5 Italian British


Race 1930 1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939
1 Indy 500 Italian Italian Monaco Monaco Monaco Monaco Belgian French Belgian
2 Belgian French French French French French German German German French
3 French Belgian German Belgian German Belgian Swiss Monaco Swiss German
4 German Italian Belgian German Italian Swiss Italian Swiss
5 Spanish Italian Swiss Italian
6 Spanish Italian
7 Spanish

For wartime events, see 1940-1945 Grand Prix season.


Race 1946 1947 1948 1949
1 Saint-Cloud Swiss Monaco British
2 Nations Belgian Swiss Belgian
3 Turin Italian French Swiss
4 French Italian French
5 British Italian

Other events included

See also:

Grand Prix drivers

Some of the notable drivers of the Grand Prix motor racing era included a few women who competed equally with the men:


From 1925 onwards, the AIACR and later the FIA organised World and European Championships for Grand Prix manufacturers, drivers and constructors:


External links

  • - Covers all the major Grand Prix motorsport championships, including Formula One, MotoGP, Nascar, IRL, WSBK, WRC Rally and many more.
  • Grand Prix History - The Story of the Grand Prix

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