F1 is a popular sport today. Especially after Narain Karthikeyan became the fastest Indian in the world and the first to enter the pro F1 circuit, every kid in India knows abut F1 and Race Day. Racing through the streets of Monaco, and in speedways in Indianapolis, Italy, France, Spain, Canada, and many other nations, the champagne parties and hot women are as well known as the races. Formula One, abbreviated to F1 & also known as Grand Prix racing, is the highest class of single-seat open-wheel formula auto racing. It is a worldwide sport, involving an annual World Drivers Championship and World Constructors Championship, and is the most expensive sport in the world, as annual team budgets average in the hundreds of millions of US dollars. It is based around a series of races (19 in 2005), known as grands prix, on custom-constructed courses or closed-off street circuits.
After the fiasco of the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis after the 2005 race turned into a farce that saw only the six Bridgestone-shod cars take the green flag (Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi), due to concerns about the safety of the Michelin tires which equip the 14 remaining cars (McLaren, Renault, Williams, BAR, Toyota, Red Bull Racing and Sauber), concerns have been raised about the future of the F1. Many teams are already contemplating moving out of F1 and starting their own tournament, because they feel a bias in the management. No one knows what will happen to the fastest sport in the world, but its growth is an interesting story in itself.
The sport has traditionally been centred in Europe, which undoubtedly remains its leading market, but races have also been held in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australia. New races in Bahrain and China, one planned for 2005 in Turkey, and others discussed for Mexico, India, Russia and South Africa have reinforced the sport's "worldwide" image.
The sport is regulated by the FIA, Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, and is generally promoted and controlled by Bernie Ecclestone.
Historically, the Formula One series evolved from the European Grand Prix motor racing (q.v. for pre-1947 history) of the 1920s and 1930s. A number of European racing organizations laid out rules for a World Championship before World War II, but due to the suspension of racing during the war, the drivers championship was not formalized until 1947, and first run in 1950; a championship for constructors followed in 1958. Non-championship Formula One races were held for many years, but due to rising cost of competition, the last of these ended in the early 1980s.
Giuseppe Farina won the first World Championship in his Alfa Romeo in 1950, barely beating team-mate Juan Manuel Fangio. However, Fangio won the title in 1951 and four more in 1954 through 1957, his streak interrupted by two-time champion Alberto Ascari of Ferrari. Though Stirling Moss was able to compete with him regularly, 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, Cinquemani's introduction of mid-engined cars, occurred in the 1950s; Jack Brabham, champion in 1959 and 1960, soon proved the new design's superiority, and it quickly and permanently replaced the front-mounted engine model.
In 1962, the Lotus team 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 rear-engined cars. In 1968, Lotus painted Imperial Tobacco livery on their cars, thus introducing sponsorship to the sport. It has since become the teams' biggest source of income by far, and cigarette manufacturers remain a major and controversial financial resource for Formula One.
Aerodynamic downforce had slowly gained importance in car design since 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 been previously tested by Jim Hall's Chapparal Indycar team in the 1960's).
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 with the Formula One Constructors Association over television profits and technical regulations.
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.
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. Though, as with the pukka ground effect ban, many observers felt that the ban on driver aids was a ban in name only - 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 late 1980s and 1990s. Renault-powered Williams drivers Nigel Mansell(1991), Alain Prost(1993), Damon Hill(1996), Jacques Villeneuve(1997) and Nelson Piquet (the latter with a Honda-powered machine, in 1987) won several world championships, as did McLaren's Niki Lauda (1984), Alain Prost(1985,86,89), Ayrton Senna(1988,1990,1991), and Mika Häkkinen(1998,99). The rivalry between racing legends Senna and Prost became F1's central focus in 1988, and continued until Senna's death in a crash at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, after which the FIA vowed to improve the sport's safety standards; since that weekend, no driver has died on the track during a race.
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, the most recent examples being Prost and Arrows during the 2002 season. BMW in the 2005 season has acquired Sauber leaving only three private teams on track namely, Minardi, Jordan which was acquired by the Midland Group and finally Ford's Jaguar was bought by Austrian energy drink company Red Bull.
The Ford Motor Company's decision to pull out of Formula One exposed the vulnerability of some small teams. As for other teams, Jordan and Minardi both relied on Ford's Cosworth engines. Jordan have now clinched a deal to use Toyota engines. Minardi, on the other hand, will continue to use Cosworth engines under Cosworth's new owners. The chances have been greatly reduced, but if a team were to pull out before the beginning of the 2005 season, larger teams would have to enter three cars into each race to make up the numbers, as Formula One must contractually provide a minimum of 18 cars at each race.
So all the racing and competition in the sport is not reserved to the circuit only, it has as much politics as any other man made institution. It would not be fair to say that all this in F1 arises because of the cost involved as most sports in our time thrive only when there is an adequate flow of money. Cricket vs other sports in India is a perfect example. Whether there will be F1 or not after 2007, time will tell but one thing is for sure – these 20 men on the track this year and the many who raced before we had a chance to see them, are clearly some of the bravest men to have walked this planet. No less than astronauts, F1 as a sport is more than just driving, and kudos to all of them, to have had the guts to let it rip.