Distorting History


There is a book called 'F1 for Dummies'.

I have never opened my copy because I fear what I may read. The publisher engaged me to fact-check and that I did too scrupulously for some and so, by mutual consent, my name was removed from the book though I still cashed the cheque. It was the first instance I can remember of people who should have known better trying to make F1 synonymous with the World Championship when it isn't and never has been.

Formula One predates the World Championship by nearly four years. For the first 15 years of the championship, most F1 races were not included. The last non-championship F1 race was in 1983. For two years, 1952 and '53, F1 cars were banned from world championship races in Europe. These are all indisputable facts yet the owners of F1 seek to deny them.

The draft of 'Dummies' had the first F1 Brazilian GP taking place in 1973, when it was actually the year before. There was a short-lived rule that said if a country applied to stage a World Championship race it had first to run a non-championship F1 race to prove that the organisers were up to the task, hence the 1972 Brazilian GP. There were only 11 starters, but it was an F1 race named the Brazilian GP and not only was it sanctioned by the FIA, it was ordered to be run by the FIA. How much more official can a race get?

The 1972 Brazilian GP was won by Carlos Reutemann in the unique Brabham BT34 'lobster claw' whose only other success was Graham Hill winning the 1971 International Trophy, another race we should ignore despite its top-class field. Incidentally, in fourth place in Brazil, 1972, was Dr Helmut Marko (BRM), his highest F1 finish.

For some time the owners of Formula One have been trying to distort history and to make F1 and the World Championship synonymous. There have been some very clever articles on Formula1.com which stop shy of actual falsehood, but which entice hacks to draw false conclusions. This is easy to do since so many writers on F1 have so little knowledge of the history of the sport. It seems also that some are too thick and/or lazy to use Google although, this is a possibility, it is that they are desperately anxious to please the owners of the franchise.

The owners of the franchise commissioned new logos this year to celebrate 70 years of the World Championship and from their website, formula1.com I quote:

'2020 marks a year of celebration as Formula 1 will look back at 70 years of the world championship, honouring the greatest drivers and races to have graced the pinnacle of motorsport.

'New logos are just the start (F1 have unveiled a trio of new designs that teams will be able to recolour and use throughout the season) as with 33 world champions, 108 Grands Prix winners, 764 drivers and more than 150 teams, there's a lot to look back on for F1's 70th anniversary.'

The first sentence speaks of the 70th anniversary of the World Championship, but the second speaks of 'F1's 70th anniversary.' No wonder some 'journalists' have been duped because they are too dumb to know the difference even when it is clearly presented. I guess that formula1.com was relying on a degree of illiteracy among hacks and have not been disappointed.

2020 is not F1's 70th anniversary, that is a damnable lie propagated, it would seem, for commercial gain, to add value to Formula One as a brand. Any attempt to deliberately falsify history, even something as relatively trivial as motor racing, is a crime against what humankind aspires to be. Reputable newspapers take a stand against stories which are not fact-checked.

I was therefore surprised when The Guardian (founded 1821) ran a piece on 13th May recalling that it was 70 years since Silverstone staged F1's first race. The paper's 'journalist', Giles Richards, should have known that the 1950 British Grand Prix was the third F1 grand prix held at Silverstone and that it was the fifth of 23 F1 races held that year, with just six counting towards the world championship.

Every day the online edition of The Guardian which arrives in my mailbox asks for financial help on the grounds that it upholds journalistic standards and is 'authoritative' and 'fact-checked' yet in this instance it published a load of bollocks. I am sure that Giles Richards was not the only inept hack to be led astray although his invention of the supercharged F1 4-litre Talbot, does elevate him above the regular run of dupes.

Sport had to reinvent itself after WWII. Most sports, including the Olympics, banned Germany and Japan from international competition until 1950. So far as motor racing was concerned this meant both people and machinery, and the use of the Nurburgring. Japan had not taken up international racing, but the loss of Germany was a heavy blow to grand prix racing. Pre-war not only had Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union been the class of the field but they had provided the bulk of the entry.

The last grand prix formula, 1938-9, had limited engines to 4,500cc normally aspirated or three litres supercharged. The AAA (American Automobile Association) had adopted the grand prix regs for IndyCar in 1938 in an attempt to bring the two sides of the pond together and saw no reason to change. Grand Prix racing, however, had a problem, a lack of cars. The CSI (Commission Sportive Internationale) had to cobble together regulations to fit what was available. In other words the new grand prix regulations would be framed around second hand machinery. From France, Delahaye and Talbot had 4.5-litre cars and then there were the 1500cc supercharged cars which, pre-war had raced in the Voiturette category which was the rough equivalent of the later Formula Two.

Italy could provide private Maseratis and Britain had ERAs. Then there was Alfa Romeo whose Tipo 158 'Alfetta' was in a class of its own. During the war, Alfa Romeo had hidden its Alfettas in caves otherwise used for maturing cheese. Furthermore, Alfa Romeo had the prestige to attract the best drivers and it had money. Cars had been a tiny part of the business which mainly made aero engines and like many another supplier to the military (Enzo Ferrari, for example) Alfa Romeo had profited.

The new formula was a lash-up which sort of worked. At first the CSI was not sure what to call it and offered Formula A, or One, with Formula B, or Two, replacing the Voiturette category. The press decided they liked Formula One because the press is keen on abbreviations and F1 is unambiguous whereas FA had other connotations, like Football Association and Fanny Adams.

The new grand prix regulations were to come into force in 1947, but the cars all existed. The first F1 race was, therefore, the Turin GP on 1st September, 1946, which was one by Achille Varzi in an Alfetta. What many people today will not understand is the very presence of Alfa Corse gave the race status. Varzi, one of the greatest drivers in history, was killed in 1948 and so never took part in a World Championship race. Like other greats such as Benoit, Nuvolari, Seaman, Caracciola, Wimille and Rosemeyer, Varzi is in danger of being air-brushed from history because he never won a World Championship point.

Has anyone ever seen a World Championship point, or weighed one in one's hands?

A major sporting competition, such as a world championship, usually demands a substantial organisation. In 1949 motorcycling's governing body, the FIM, showed that world championships could be run by an office junior during their lunch break. The FIM nominated six race meetings in Belgium, the Isle of Man, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Ulster and nominated races for four solo classes (500cc, 350cc, 250cc and 125cc) plus 600cc motorbike and sidecar combinations. They decided on points for the top five finishers: 10-8-7-6-5 plus a point for the fastest lap. Since the events were scheduled to take place in any case, all the FIM's office junior had to do was to keep a tally of the points and send the scores by telex to the main press agencies. Individual newspapers would do the rest. All that was left to the FIM was to buy trophies and organise a ceremony involving a slap-up dinner for the Men in Blazers.

Though all the races took place in Europe, the FIM was justified in calling its points system 'world' championships because they were open to all nationalities (save for German and Japanese in 1949.)

The FIA saw the FIM model and saw that it was good in that it generated publicity and interest for no effort. The first Formula One had been a lash-up born of necessity but by the end of 1951 the category was in crisis. Alfa Romeo had withdrawn, BRM was a long way from ready to race and only Ferrari had a modern design, the 4.5-litre Tipo 375. It was decided therefore to run the 1952 and 1953 world championships to the 2-litre Formula Two.

This inconvenient fact causes problems for some who maintain that F1 and world championship are synonymous. Some have tried to imply that F2 somehow morphed into F1. When fact-checking 'F1 for Dummies' I was adamant that the distinction should be made and that when listing world champions that Alberto Ascari was not called an F1 champion. This was not to do down one of my motor racing heroes, and a man whom Fangio acknowledged as the quicker driver, but it was in the interest of accuracy. He won back-to-back world championships, but the only time he raced an F1 car in that period was a Ferrari Tipo 375 at Indianapolis in 1952. Indy was still included in the world championship and its rules allowed engines of 4.5-litres unsupercharged.

The F2 championship was great for the sport, it was more diverse technically than before and more races were held. France had so many F2 grands prix that, in 1952 it ran a separate championship. Ascari won that one as well.

Formula Two did not morph into Formula One, there were still F1 races. That is how Fangio came to drive a V16 F1 BRM at the 1953 Albi GP which was for F1 cars.

The owners of Formula One are trying to falsify history, perhaps for commercial gain, to improve the value of their brand. The invention of logos featuring the number 70 is dishonest. Seventy does not refer to F1, but the World Championship, which is the property of the FIA. There is also a precedent for the championship being run to a formula other than F1.

The owners of Formula 1 are not being ethical. In the case of the 1950 British GP they have been assisted by hacks who are ignorant of their subject and who are too dim and/or lazy to use Google or Wikipedia. These hacks should be ridiculed for their own good or else they will continue to believe PR bullshit and, worse, pass it off as fact.

Mike Lawrence.

Learn more about Mike and check out his previous features, here

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Published: 07/06/2020
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