The Formula One series has its roots in the European Grand Prix motor racing (q.v. for pre-1947 history) of the 1920s and 1930s. A number of Grand Prix racing organizations laid out rules for a World Championship before World War II, but due to the suspension of racing during the war, the World Drivers Championship was not formalized until 1947, and was first run in 1950. A championship for constructors followed in 1958. Non-championship Formula One races were held for many years, but due to the rising cost of competition, the last of these occurred in the early 1980s.
The sport's title, Formula One, indicates that it is intended to be the most advanced and most competitive of the many racing formulae.
Juan Manuel Fangio drovr this Alfa-Romeo 159 to the title in 1951.The inaugural Formula One World Championship was won by Italian Giuseppe Farina in his Alfa Romeo in 1950, barely defeating his Argentine teammate Juan Manuel Fangio. However, Fangio won the title in 1951 and four more in the next six years, his streak interrupted by two-time champion Alberto Ascari of Ferrari. Though Britain's Stirling Moss was able to compete regularly, he was never able to win the World Championship. Fangio is remembered for dominating Formula One's first decade and has long been considered the "grand master" of Formula One.
The first major technological development, Cooper's introduction of mid-engined cars, which evolved from the company's successful Formula 3 designs, occurred in the 1950s. Jack Brabham, champion in 1959 and 1960, soon proved the new design's superiority. By 1961, all competitors had switched to rear-engined cars.
The first British World Champion was Mike Hawthorn, who drove a Ferrari to the title in 1958. However, when Colin Chapman entered F1 as a chassis designer and later founder of Lotus, British racing green came to dominate the field for the next decade. Between Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Jack Brabham, Graham Hill, and Denny Hulme, British teams and Commonwealth drivers won twelve world championships between 1962 and 1973.
In 1962, Lotus introduced a car with aluminium sheet chassis called a monocoque in place of the traditional tubular chassis; this proved to be the next major technological breakthrough since the introduction of mid-engined cars. In 1968, Lotus painted an Imperial Tobacco livery on their cars, thus introducing sponsorship to the sport.
Aerodynamic downforce slowly gained importance in car design from the appearance of aerofoils in the late 1960s. In the late 1970s Lotus introduced ground effect aerodynamics that provided enormous downforce and greatly increased cornering speeds (though the concept had previously been tested by Jim Hall's Chaparral IndyCar team in the 1960s).
The formation of the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile in 1979 set off the FISA-FOCA War, during which FISA and its president Jean Marie Balestre clashed repeatedly with the Formula One Constructors Association over television profits and technical regulations.
Rise in popularity: 1981 saw the signing of the first Concorde Agreement, a contract which bound the teams to compete until its expiration and assured them a share of the profits from the sale of television rights, bringing an end to the FISA-FOCA War and contributing to Bernie Ecclestone's eventual complete financial control of the sport, after much negotiation.
The FIA imposed a ban on ground effect aerodynamics in 1983. By then, however, turbocharged engines, which Renault had pioneered in 1977, were producing over 700 bhp (600 kW) and were essential to be competitive. In later years, notably 1987, the Formula One turbo cars produced in excess of 1000 bhp in racing trim (and perhaps as much as 1250 bhp in qualifying trim). These cars were and still are the most powerful open-wheel circuit racing cars ever. To reduce engine power output and thus speeds, the FIA limited fuel tank capacity in 1984 and boost pressures in 1988 before banning turbocharged engines in 1989.
In the early 1990s, teams started introducing electronic driver aids such as power steering, traction control, and semi-automatic gearboxes. Some were borrowed from contemporary road cars. Some, like active suspension, were primarily developed for the track and later made their way to the showroom. The FIA, due to complaints that technology was determining the outcome of races more than driver skill, banned many such aids in 1994. However, many observers felt that the ban on driver aids was a ban in name only as the FIA did not have the technology or the methods to eliminate these features from competition.
The teams signed a second Concorde Agreement in 1992 and a third in 1997, which is due to expire on the last day of 2007.
On the track, the McLaren and Williams teams dominated the 1980s and 1990s. Honda and McLaren dominated much of the 1980s, whilst Renault-powered Williams drivers won several world championships in the mid 1990s, with a McLaren comeback in the late 1990s. The rivalry between racing legends Senna and Prost became F1's central focus in 1988, and continued until Prost retired at the end of 1993. Tragically and ironically, Senna died in a crash at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix having taken over Prost's lead drive at Williams that year. The FIA vowed to improve the sport's safety standards; since that weekend, no driver has died on the track during a race.
Drivers from McLaren, Williams and Ferrari, dubbed the "Big Three", have won all but two World Championships from 1984 to the present day. Their streak was interrupted only by Michael Schumacher's two titles with Benetton. Due to the technological advances of the 1990s, the cost to compete in Formula One rose dramatically; this increased financial burden, combined with three teams' dominance, caused the poorer independent teams to struggle not only to remain competitive, but to stay in business. Financial troubles forced several teams to withdraw, which has prompted former Jordan owner Eddie Jordan to say that the days of competitive privateers are over.