Bob McMurray: 1000 reasons to celebrate F1
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Formula 1 celebrates a significant milestone at the Chinese Grand Prix this weekend. It’s a huge achievement, marking the 1000th F1 Grand Prix since the Formula 1 Championship modern era began in 1950.
The original term Grandes Epreuve was coined in the years before WWI, when the road races were run over hundreds and sometimes thousands of kilometres — often as point-to-point events, until the first circuit race took place based in Le Mans.
Admittedly there were four seasons of Grand Prix racing after WWII, but the official beginning of the FIA World Championship of Drivers was May 13, 1950 on an old wartime airfield at Silverstone.
Twenty-one drivers from nine countries started the Grand Prix in front of an estimated 220,000 spectators. And so began what was to become one of the biggest, richest, most watched and most glamorous sports in the world.
Those 21 drivers are now part of the 856 drivers, from 40 countries, to have officially driven in a Grand Prix, although that figure is skewed somewhat by the inclusion of the 103 drivers who entered only the Indy 500. That race was a part of the World Championship between 1950 and 1960 and was a race that few F1 GP drivers entered.
Thirty-three different drivers have claimed the championship over that time.
Without wishing to denigrate Shanghai, a city that is vibrant and exciting, I cannot help but wonder if those powers that be in the FIA or Liberty Media haven’t spent the last year or so trying to think of a way to “manage” the venue for this momentous anniversary.
The track in the Jiading District of the enormous city is one of the most expensive, and a stunning piece of architecture. What it is not, is overflowing with tradition. Nor is it
in any way a charismatic track, having an atmosphere akin to that of a concrete industrial complex. It has no ambience.
What would those boardrooms in the Place de la Concorde or St James have given for the 1000th Grand Prix to have fallen on a weekend in May at Monaco, in July at
Silverstone, September in Italy, Brazil in November . . . So many opportunities to celebrate in style with all the glitz and showmanship Liberty Media can bring.
How the sport has changed bears no comparison to those early years. The drivers are still extraordinarily talented, even those who have managed to find a seat with the assistance of the odd greenback or two; exactly like those brave, fearless, men of the past where a double-barrelled name or a title or two was normal. The average age may have dropped by a decade or more but the Grand Prix weekend still oozes excitement.
Grand Prix racing has always been associated with the comparatively well-heeled. These days, if you come into Formula 1 with a “scholarship” from one of the big teams and last as a driver for more than two or three seasons you are set up financially with a future that enables you to rattle down the lower formulae for years.
As milestones go, this 1000th anniversary in China will have to go a long way to match the 500th Grand Prix in Adelaide in 1990.
The height of the Prost/Senna acrimony after the Japanese Grand Prix “accident”, politics, crashes, infighting, it had the lot — and a great place to race.
A thousand Grands Prix is a momentous achievement and I am sure the Chinese organisers and FIA /Liberty collective, planning a festival on the streets of the city, will make the best of it.
Happy 1000 Formula 1, and thank you. You have been good to me.