Image Credits: Alamy (The Formula 1 World Drivers’ in the 1950’s)
The Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championships formally kicked off in 1950 but a modern viewer would find the
ront-engined cars of the day unrecognizable. Inaugural season Alfa Romeo dominated. This is Silverstone‘s British Grand Prix.
Image credits: Getty Images (Stirling Moss at Goodwood Cooper in Rob Walker’s 1950s)
Regulations had begun to restrict engine size by the mid-1950s, though teams could use turbo or superchargers.
New rules in the 1958 year meant that each car had to burn standard gasoline fuel instead of the alcohol-based fuels
they had previously used. This is Stirling Moss at Goodwood Cooper in Rob Walker’s.
Image Credits: Grand Prix Photo/Getty Images (German Grand Prix on the Rob Walker Racing Team Lotus 1968)
In 1968, aerodynamic effects were commonly used as teams put massive wings on struts many feet high (seen here in the German Grand Prix on the Rob Walker Racing Team Lotus). “They stole the idea from Can-Am races in America,” says Don Capps, a historian of motorsport. It was also an especially deadly year, claiming the lives of five drivers — the bosses banned the high wings and introduced other safety rules.
Image Credits: Don Heiny/Getty Images (Lotus 79, Mario Andretti 1978)
The 1970s marked the beginning of Formula 1 as today’s fans know it and the technological innovations came thick and quick. In this Lotus 79, Mario Andretti won the 1978 Formula 1 World Drivers Championship which used ‘ground effect’ aerodynamics, effectively turning the underside of the car into the equivalent of the giant downforce gobs wing.
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Image Credits: Getty Images (Renault’s RS01, California in 1978.)
Renault’s RS01 was the first modern racer to use a turbocharger, though it had been allowed by law for over a decade. Initial reliability problems gave it the name “yellow teapot” because of the frequent white smoke clouds. It proved itself in 1979 and the Turbo was quickly adopted by other teams. It competed here in Long Beach, California in 1978.
Image credits: Getty Images (McLaren MP4/1 by John Watson in 1981)
The 1981 McLaren MP4/1 by John Watson may not look revolutionary but it was the first to be made as a single carbon fibre composite monocoque, rather than a metal chassis. This made the car incredibly light, sturdy and strong. Other teams worried about their safety at crashes early on, but it quickly became the standard way to build a racecar.
Image credits: Getty Images (Nelson Piquet’s Brabham BMW BT52, 1983)
Radical ground effects had been officially outlawed in 1983, so Nelson Piquet’s Brabham BMW BT52 used
heavily trimmed side pods and a smooth underside here at the Italian Grand Prix. By now the cars were all
running very thirsty turbo engines, so they re-introduced pit stops for refuelling. They did not last long, and
in 1984, they were banned again.
Image credits: Getty Images (British Grand Prix in his McLaren MP4/5 1989)
In 1989 it all changed again. Turbos were banned outright after many seasons of reducing the boost energy to try to reign in the crazy strength of F1 engines and make races safer and more exciting. Naturally, there were up to 3.5 litres of aspirated engines and 8 to 12 cylinders back in. Here is legendary driver Ayrton Senna at the 1989 British Grand Prix in his McLaren MP4/5.
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Image credits: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images (Ayrton Senna in the Williams FW16, 1994)
Formula 1 had gone a decade without fatality when F1 ‘s great Ayrton Senna, shown here in the Williams FW16, died in a 1994 San Marino GP crash — after warning that banning electronic driver aids would be dangerous. His death triggered a further round of restrictions on power and track changes.
Image credits: Paul Gilham/Getty Images ( Ferrari F150, In the late 2000s)
In the late 2000s, due to similarly matched, powerful cars, the races had become dull to watch. So again the bosses updated the regs, reducing engine rev limits and allowing adjustable wings to change mid-race aerodynamics This Ferrari F150, shown testing at the Ricardo Tormo Circuit in Spain, was one result.
Image credits: Andrew Hone/Getty Images (RB10, in 2014)
2014 marked a change toward smaller engines (1.6-litre turbocharged six-cylinder engines), with heavy use of the Kinetic Energy Recovery System. KERS stores energy during braking by spinning a flywheel then releases it for performance boosting during acceleration. Infiniti Red Bull Racing introduces its latest RB10 in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, during day one of the winter tests.
Image credits: Daimler ( Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport, 2017)
The focus for the 2017 season is on overtaking again, with many of the aerodynamic restrictions unwinding. The head honchos of F1 want cars to be through the corners faster, although viewers are not convinced that the races will be more exciting. The cars are lower and sleeker, with much wider tires, like this one from reigning champions, Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport.
Image credits: McLaren (What’s next, MP4-X, McLaren)
And what happens next? Further innovations. At the end of 2015, with the MP4-X, McLaren displayed one view of the future. It’s electric, charged by the sun, and thought-provoking drivers are steering it. It’s an extreme concept but, as the last six decades have shown, Formula 1 tech is not standing for long.