For 67 years Grand Prix racing has sat at the pinnacle of world motor sport. First organised in 1950, the FIA Formula 1™ World Championship now embraces more than 900 races; the 2017 Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix held between 23-26 March will be the 22nd race staged in Melbourne and the 33rd in Australia.
The inaugural World Championship included just seven rounds, but one of them was the famous Indianapolis 500 and was included only to enhance the ‘global’ status of that original series. The other six Grands Prix reflected the sport’s European origins, starting at the windswept Silverstone circuit in England and ending on the sweeping banked curves of Monza in Italy.
Nowadays the World Championship encompasses virtually every continent on the planet, with 20 races the modern rule rather than the exception. F1®’s reach extends from Australia to Abu Dhabi, with stops in places like the USA, Mexico, Singapore and other exotic locations.
Throughout its rich history F1® has reflected manufacturers’ and rule-makers’ concerns with technical innovation, from super-charging and turbo-charging to normally aspirated engines and on to the highly sophisticated ‘power units’ in the environmentally friendly – or less unfriendly – Grand Prix world of today.
But as with every other area of life, Formula 1® is about people, and about the drivers in particular.
From the first World Champion, Giuseppe Farina in 1950, to the most recent, Nico Rosberg in 2016, men from 15 countries – 16 if we differentiate Scots from Englishmen – have enjoyed the status of the world’s finest driver. If we allow Indianapolis 500 winners from 1950-60 into our calculations, 107 drivers have been Grand Prix winners.
Australia has punched above her weight, too, with two World Champions of her own: the peerless three-time champion Jack Brabham, knighted for his services to the sport, and Alan Jones, while the 21st century has seen Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo join their famous compatriots as Grand Prix winners, Ricciardo the most recent of those 107.
Any straw poll of F1® fans and insiders would throw up the names of Fangio, Jim Clark, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher as the best we have ever seen.