70 years of motorsport history

Happy Birthday Formula 1

We take a look back at exciting chapters in the history of Formula 1, at some exceptional drivers, technical challenges, innovative vehicles and fun facts.

Lined up in a row, for just a moment they hold their breath and time stands still. All eyes are fixed on a point, the electronic display in the middle of the starting arch. The lights come on: first one, then two, and, at the fifth, a symphony resounds from the most powerful engines in the world. 

The first time motorsport fans around the globe witnessed this moment was in Silverstone on May 13, 1950. Instead of an electronic display, with a flag waving -- the go signal for the first Formula 1 race in the world driving championship. At that time, no one had any idea that this early summer fairy tale would develop into a success story lasting 70 years. Today, Formula 1, the figurehead of motorsport, is the third largest sporting event in the world -- after the Olympics and the World Cup. On the occasion of this milestone, we would like to take a look back with you at the spectacular history of Formula 1.

The interplay of adrenaline, overtaking maneuvers and loud engines continues to appeal to racing fans today as it did back then. Which team has the best chassis, the most powerful engines and the smartest drivers? To find out, just eight years after the patenting of the first automobile, speed junkies let their machines compete against each other. On the roads from Paris to Rouen, the first endurance race was held on July 22, 1894. There were 21 participants. Of the 17 vehicles that crossed the finish line, nine were equipped with engines invented by Gottlieb Daimler and produced under license by the French vehicle manufacturer Panhard & Levassor. At that time, it was already a success if the vehicle crossed the finish line unharmed or at all.

Let's take a look at the stars: In 1934, at the international Eifel race at the Nürburgring, Manfred von Brauchitsch wins with the new Mercedes-Benz W 25 Grand Prix racing car. There, 86 years ago, the era of the Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows had begun. The star of the 1930s team is Rudolf Caracciola. He becomes European Grand Prix Champion in 1935, 1937 and 1938 -- the forerunner of today's Formula 1 World Championship.

More and more people are becoming enthusiastic about racing, and new, larger circuits are quickly being built. This soon to be the most popular racing series is launched in 1946. It is initially known as Formula A or simply Formule Internationale. What distinguishes Formula 1 from its predecessors are in particular the standards, which make a regulated and above all measurable competition possible. These are set by the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile), the International Automobile Federation. Their technical requirements turn a simple racing car into a Formula 1 car that complies with the rules. Although several races have been held in the past, the first world championship according to the official Formula 1 rules was held in 1950. And this is also where our story begins.

Starting signal Silverstone -- the first official Grand Prix in the history of Formula 1 World Championship takes place on the former airfield. In the end, the Italian Giuseppe "Nino" Farina with an Alfa Romeo 1.5 liter compressor is the winner of this race. This moment is celebrated by 200,000 spectators, including then King George IV of England. Since then, world championships have been held every year in this racing class. 

Two years later, the crash helmet became an integral part of the driver's kit. For the race cars, the regulations stipulate the following: a cubic capacity of 750 cubic centimeters with a compressor, or 2,500 cubic centimeters without, with any composition of the fuel. Mercedes made its Formula 1 debut on July 4, 1954 at the French Grand Prix in Reims. With the W 196 R they achieve a double victory with drivers Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling. Known  for its striking nose, amongst other things, this Silver Arrow was particularly streamlined and agile. The streamlined version was initially built for 1954 because the opening race in Reims (France) allowed very high speeds. This was followed by a second version with free-standing wheels. This Formula 1 racing car also forms the basis for the two-seater Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR racing car, the flagship of the 1955 season -- a golden year for the Knight of the Silver Arrows, Stirling Moss. He takes the overall victory of the Mille Miglia for Mercedes-Benz with the best time ever achieved in this race. He also triumphs at the 1955 British Grand Prix as the first British racing driver. He thus leads the Silver Arrows in a quadruple victory, followed by his team-mates Juan Manuel Fangio, Karl Kling, and Piero Taruffi.  Mercedes-Benz ended the 1955 season with a double triumph: In Formula 1, Juan Manuel Fangio won the second consecutive World Championship in the W 196 R. The Stuttgart brand also won the World Sports Car Championship with the 300 SLR racing sports car (W 196 S). Mercedes-Benz then withdraws from Formula 1 and sports car racing at the height of its success, intending to concentrate on series vehicle development.

But the racing evolution continues. The mid/rear engine we know today was being used by Cooper in Monaco in 1957 and is still in use today. Here, too, it is clear that the beginnings are difficult: The stars could not have been better aligned than for the favorite Jack Brabham at the wheel of the retrofitted T51 at the US Grand Prix in 1959. The driver runs out of fuel a few meters before the finish. He pushes his car over the line with full effort and ends up in fourth place. After that he collapses next to his machine. 

Zandvoort, Netherlands, 1962: The famous designer Colin Chapman introduces the Lotus 25, the first Formula 1 car with a monocoque. This is a safety cell that can withstand even extreme impacts. Then made of aluminum sheet metal, today made of various layers of carbon fiber, it wraps itself protectively around the driver and forms the center of the race cars. A revolution in Formula 1 that is now indispensable. In 1970, the Lotus 72 becomes the first racing car to feature a radiator in the side boxes and an airbox air intake. This design, too, is still the standard in Formula 1 today. 

In the 1970s, the first Ferrari era begins with Niki Lauda at the helm. After winning two world championship titles, one of the many Formula 1 tragedies followed in 1976. In this season, the Austrian has an accident at the Nürburgring and suffers severe burns. But only 42 days later he climbs back into the cockpit at the Italian Grand Prix. After his third World Championship title in 1984 with McLaren, the legend retires from motorsport the following year. The McLaren racing team cooperates with Honda after this, a merger that produced one of the most famous driver duos in the 1988 season: Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. They won 15 out of 16 races.

Formula 1 has always been a stage for outstanding driving skills and technical innovations -- even if some ideas don't make the final cut. Tyrell surprised the motorsport community in 1976 with a car that "rolled up" with six wheels instead of the usual four. Although the concept later failed due to the lack of further development of the tires, for a brief moment all eyes were on this racing caterpillar. Electronic progress dominated the early 1990s with innovations such as active chassis, transaction controls, and ABS. However, these little helpers were banned again by the 1994 season. Another important adaptation is made by the FIA one year later: The end of the era of 3.5 liter suction. The San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy, records another dark chapter in Formula 1 history. In his qualifying practice, the front wing of Formula 1 freshman Roland Ratzenberger's car breaks and he hits the boundary wall at over 300 km/h. He succumbs to his serious injuries while still at the scene of the accident. One day later, multiple Brazilian world champion Ayrton Senna also dies on the same track after an unbraked impact against the concrete wall. These tragedies at Imola are an impetus to rethink safety in Formula 1. Shortly afterward, engine capacity is reduced to 3,000 cc and power is reduced from about 750 to 650 hp.

Adaptations of this kind provide more safety in today's racing because, unlike conventional sports cars, racing technology enables extreme acceleration and deceleration for Formula 1 engines. A current Formula 1 car accelerates to 100 km/h in less than two seconds. The more the engines perform, the more reliable the brakes must be. An interlocking system is needed. In 3.79 seconds, these race cars can decelerate from 300 km/h to zero (status 2017). Performance, success and safety must be brought together in Formula 1, a combination that regularly poses new challenges to the designers and their teams. Mercedes-Benz has been back on track meeting these challenges since 1993. The Silver Arrows' comeback began as an engine manufacturer alongside Sauber Motorsport, before merging with the McLaren racing team two years later.

1998 saw further changes: Treadless tires, the so-called slicks, are no longer allowed. From now on, Formula 1 relies on grooved tires. Instead of a width of two meters, only 1.80 m wide vehicles are allowed. Implementation of the new regulations is best achieved by the British-German partnership, McLaren-Mercedes. With the aerodynamic efficiency of the MP4-13, the Finn Mika Häkkinen takes eight victories and becomes Formula 1 world champion at the end of the season. With further FIA adjustments, such as the reduction of the engines to 2.4 l eight-cylinder engines with a minimum weight of 95 kilograms, Renault moves into the limelight in 2006. The racing team is known for its extraordinary engine designs. The 750 hp of the R26 propels racing driver Fernando Alonso to the top of the world championship after seven victories. He wins his second title.

In the 2000s, Ferrari shines in all its glory. Michael Schumacher sits at the wheel and a fabulous title series begins. With a total of seven world championship titles, 91 Grand Prix victories and 68 pole positions in his career, Schumacher rises to the Formula 1 Olympus.

2009, another milestone: the KERS energy recovery system enters Formula 1. While all superstructures on the bodies are banned, the rear wings grow narrower upwards. The Brawn-Mercedes private team is at the forefront. They equip the BGP001 with a double diffuser and secure victory. The Drag Reduction System (DRS), will make overtaking maneuvers on long straights much easier from 2011 onward. At the push of a button, the rear wings are flattened and the vehicles gain speed of about 15 km/h. In 2009, the motorsport community is expecting another highlight: Mercedes-Benz will be back on the grid in 2010 under the name of Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team, with a driver pairing that will be a sight to behold: Nico Rosberg and seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher.

2014 shows, however, that changes are not definitive: We celebrate the comeback of turbos with hybrid power. At the same time, the modern age of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team begins with a start-to-finish victory in Australia by Nico Rosberg at the season opener. In the end, the whole team shines and wins its first Constructors' World Championship with Lewis Hamilton as World Driver Champion. Since then the Silver Arrows have been unstoppable. For six seasons in a row they have given up neither the driver nor the constructors' title, thus writing an unprecedented Formula 1 fairytale.

You can also experience this story live and in color at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. Real Formula 1 racing cars await you there, including the Mercedes F1 W07 Hybrid, with which Nico Rosberg won the world championship title in 2016. Its highlight: AMG hybrid technology, with a 1.6 liter engine delivering 800 hp. Take a first look here in our videos.

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