Wednesday , 21 August 2019
Scuderia Ferrari S.p.A
Scuderia Ferrari S.p.A

Why China will not be hosting the 1000th Formula 1 race

A huge deal is being made ahead of the upcoming Chinese Grand Prix. However, the labelling of it being ‘1000th Formula 1 race’, ‘1000th grand prix’ or the ‘1000th F1 grand prix’ are simply all false. Is this being completely pedantic? Maybe. But the complex history of F1 racing and grand prix racing (which are two different things) makes it incredibly difficult to work out just how many F1 races there have been.

Recent history is incredibly simplistic compared to a time when there would be F1 races, non-championship F1 races and other races such as Formula Libre races (where F1 cars would regularly run) all in the same year. As far as grand prix races go, unsurprisingly, more than a century of sport is going to throw up a fair few things to address.

The reason why it’s wrong to call this the 1000th grand prix is that such racing started back in 1906. Grands prix ran usually as standalone events in the early 20th century, primarily in Europe. However, some races labelled as grand prix were not even run to grand prix regulations at the time. There was also the short-lived European championship, which ran up until war broke out in Europe in 1939.

To confuse matters further, Indycar has also run races called ‘grand prix’ throughout its history as well. There are also junior races such as the Macau and Pau Grands Prix.

Many believe that F1 races started in 1950, but in fact F1 as a ruleset came to be in 1946, shortly after the war. The 1946 Turin Grand Prix is officially the first F1 race, some four years before the 1950 British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

But even when the world championship started, it was not the ‘Formula One World Championship’. That name only came to be in the 1980s. Prior to that, it was the ‘World Championship for Drivers’, with the constructors’ variant coming in eight years later.

Even more confusingly, some races in the championship were not even run to F1 regulations. The 11 Indianapolis 500 races (which are definitely not grand prix) between 1950 and 1960 were run to AAA regulations as opposed to F1. Every championship race in Europe in 1952 and 1953 were run to Formula 2 regulations, and there were some German Grand Prix which featured F2 cars in conjunction with F1 cars that could arguably be Formula Libre races.

Regional F1 championships were also run – in countries such as the United Kingdom, East Germany and South Africa. And, of course, plenty of non-championship F1 races were also contested – right up until the 1983 Race of Champions. Some of these were deemed to be F1 races even though the likes of F2 and Formula 5000 cars occasionally ran, and the Race of Champions was also sometimes run over two separate races.

Some races were set to be championship races but had their status culled, such as the 1980 Spanish Grand Prix and the 1981 South African Grand Prix. Those are very much F1 races, however. As for historic races, where do those fit in? Because strictly speaking, those are definitely F1 races, even if they are not being run to contemporary regulations.

Working out precisely how many F1 races there has been over time may just be impossible. So many assumptions must be made, and rules will have to be set out for what exactly classifies as an F1 race. To work out how many grand prix has been run becomes an even more difficult task, especially as there was a period when the difference between a grand prix car and a sportscar was whether it had mud flaps or not.

There is only one correct term for this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix. It is the 1000th world championship race. The 1000th F1 race and grand prix milestone will have been surpassed a very long time ago, whenever that may have been.

About Craig Woollard

Motorsport historian and journalist Craig Woollard has had an unusual path to a career in motorsport. After graduating from the University of Essex with a degree in mathematics in 2013, he changed his career path immediately after discovering a talent for writing. After occasional freelance work in 2015 and 2016, he joined the Autosport Academy for 2017. In the same year, he became an archive digitiser at Motorsport Images - which is his full-time job to this date.

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