As the sport celebrates its 60th anniversary at Silverstone, what better way to learn about the history of the sport than by the men who made it.
Sixty years of Formula One
Sixty years ago, a row of cars lined up on a former Second World War airfield in the UK for a race. At the end of it all, it was the Italian Giuseppe Farina, in an Alfa Romeo 158, who took the chequered flag The significance of the event is not in who won, however, but what it began. Because the 1950 British Grand Prix represented the first sanctioned championship event of Formula One. The new venture represented a standardisation of racing rules by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), which so named the series to represent the pinnacle of auto racing. And since that first race 60 years ago at the Silverstone circuit, F1 has continued to be at the forefront of technology and speed for car racing around the world, enthralling billions of people with its glory, danger and disappointment and, along the way, creating more than just a bit of controversy. Tomorrow, the historic track will once again play host to the British Grand Prix. As F1 blows out the candles on its birthday cake, what better way to learn about the history of the sport than by the men who made it. We talk with a world champion from each decade of F1's existence to share their memories of victories, defeats and, inevitably for some, tragedies along the way.
'No one gave us a chance' The first decade of the F1 world championship very much belonged to the late, great Juan Manuel Fangio, who won a record five world titles with four different manufacturers. Britain's Stirling Moss very much played the role of habitual bridesmaid, finishing runner-up in the championship for four consecutive seasons during the 50s. On the technology front, the decade ended with the introduction by Mercedes of fuel injection. The Australian Sir Jack Brabham, now 84, won the driver's title three times (1959, 1960, 1966), and remains the only F1 driver to have won a title in a car of his own construction, in 1966. In a career spanning from 1955 to 1970, he amassed 14 grand prix wins with Cooper, Rob Walker Racing and his own team, Brabham. "There are a few seasons that stick out for me in Formula One. Of course, winning your first world title is always special, so 1959 obviously stands out. That, for me, was the toughest season without question. There had been three driver deaths during the 1958 season; Luigi Musso, Peter Collins and Stuart Lewis-Evans, and then Mike Hawthorn, the 1958 champion, lost his life at the start of 1959. It was difficult to follow on after those tragedies but it was important to keep a positive attitude. For me, though, the most memorable and certainly the most important was 1966 because I won the world title with a completely Australian effort. I was working with Ron Tauranac and the title was the realisation of what we'd set out a few years ago to achieve. I remember winning our first race in the Brabham at the French Grand Prix, which sparked a remarkable run of four straight wins; very unusual in those days. That season, no one gave us a chance, and we proved them wrong with our first win in a Brabham at the French Grand Prix at Reims in 1966. Everyone said we could not beat the Ferrari team but we did, which was hugely satisfying. Oddly, though, that car wasn't not necessarily the favourite I drove in F1 - that was the BT24, which I think of very fondly despite the fact I didn't win the world title in it. It was before wings and was such a beautifully balanced car to drive. We only won two races in it - France and Canada - but it was a great, great car. Looking back at my F1 days, there are times when I believe I could and probably should have won more world titles, in 1967 in particular but stupid errors by mechanics prevented that. Such is life in motorsport. Looking back, there have been many, many great drivers but the greatest of all time has to be Stirling Moss. The greatest driver plus a great man."
'Conditions were atrocious' The 1960s saw the F1 pack all switch from front-engined to mid-engined cars after Cooper's success the previous decade. The period was dominated by British manufacturers and drivers as Graham Hill, Jim Clark, John Surtees and Jackie Stewart all became champions. Unrestricted sponsorship was finally allowed, and safety became increasingly paramount following a series of driver deaths, to the extent that drivers boycotted the 1968 Belgian Grand Prix. Sir Jackie Stewart was the most vocal proponent of safety then, and his efforts led to drastic changes in track and car design and other safety measures that can be seen to this day. The Scot raced in 99 grands prix, winning 27, with BRM, Matra and Tyrrell and won three titles (1969, 1971, 1973) from 1965 to 1973. "I've been in love with Formula One for every one of its 60 years and I still love it. The buzz and butterflies I get when I arrive at the British Grand Prix are still the same as when I first visited an F1 race as a young boy. I remember getting Juan Manuel Fangio's autograph - I still have the autograph book at home with his signature in it. I was in awe of him and he got me hooked on F1. I never got to drive against Fangio so I'd say Jim Clark was the best driver that I ever raced against. He was such a smooth driver - everyone else was bullying the cars and he knew just what was required from each car. I was lucky enough to win three world titles and all are still very special. I could have won four but I got ill in 1972. I got mononucleosis and a duodenal ulcer. I'd been burning the candle at both ends and in the middle as well. I really thought about retiring as I didn't think it was worth all of this. But thankfully I did stay put and recovered to win the last two races that season before going on to become world champion again in 1973. My first world title was pretty special but my best title was probably 1971. I was travelling to and from the US for the Can Am Series. It took a huge amount out of me. At the same time I was also working for ABC's television coverage. To win the world championship at the end of it was just great. As for race wins, my first race win in F1 at Monza in 1965 was special as was my first Monaco win the following season. I think most pundits would say the Nürburgring in 1968 was my best race. If that was today, the race wouldn't have been run as the conditions were so atrocious. My most enjoyable was the British Grand Prix in 1969 with Jochen Rindt. We must have changed the lead 30 times. Then there's the question of the best car. Sometimes the fastest car is not always the best. For example, the 006 Tyrrell was a very fast car but it was very difficult to drive. The best car was the Matra MS80 I drove in 1969. It wasn't necessarily the quickest but it was a dream."
'Relationship deteriorated' A series of driver deaths overshadowed the decade, among them Jochen Rindt, Jo Siffert and Ronnie Peterson. During the 1970s, Bernie Ecclestone changed the face of F1 when, as president of the Formula One Constructors' Association, he rearranged the management of its commercial rights. Other innovations included Renault's introduction of turbocharged engines. In 1976 at the old Nürburgring track, Niki Lauda suffered a horrific, fiery crash. He was given the last rites, but he was back racing six weeks later. Now 61, Lauda raced from 1971 to 79, then came back in 1982 until 85. In time spent with BRM, Ferrari, Brabham and McLaren, the Austrian amassed 25 grand prix wins and three titles (1975, 1977, 1984). "I've always been of the opinion that it's wrong to compare drivers from different generations, so to pick out the best driver from the last 60 years of F1 is not an easy task. It would be impossible as the technology, the machinery, everything is so different between each era. I do have a lot of respect for Ayrton Senna because of his great quality as a racing driver and because he was killed too young. The best racing driver I ever faced? I'd have to say all of them. For me personally, I remember every single one of my world titles and 25 races wins. They were all great to me and I remember them all vividly. I cannot pick one - it's different in my mind every day. People have different opinions on what my best world title was; even though 1984 was the most difficult, I'd have to say 1975 as it was the first. The first one is always the best as, of course, it's first but it's tough as you've never been world champion before and you don't know what is expected. The next year, things did not go well with the accident. I felt I definitely would have won the world title that year had it not been for the accident. Even with the accident, though, I still could have won the world title but I failed to finish the Japanese Grand Prix and that was it, I lost out to James Hunt by a single point. And I could have won even more had I stayed with Ferrari, but my relationship with them deteriorated after the accident as I didn't think they treated me well when I came back. The next year I was world champion again so it showed I was right to move. I missed the Ferrari - that was no question my favourite car. As a racing driver, the ultimate thing is to drive a Ferrari and to win in one is fantastic. I was lucky that I got to experience that a few times. Then I went away and came back to F1, and to win the world title in 1984 was amazing - the toughest season, surprisingly tougher than the year of the accident. I only won the world title from my team-mate Alain Prost by half a point."
'Going to chase my dream' The rise and fall of the turbo was the main technological talking point of this particular decade, but other innovations included McLaren bringing out the first composite carbon fibre chassis. On the track, the racing action was predominantly dictated by Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in the latter half of the decade as McLaren and Williams proved to be the teams to beat while Ferrari generally floundered. In all, McLaren won 16 world championships over the next two decades. Alan Jones, now 63, was with Williams for his only world title in 1980. The Australian also raced with Hesketh, Hill, Surtees, Shadow, Arrows and Haas Lola from 1975 to 1986, with a break in 1982 and 1984 during that time. "It only seems the other day that we were celebrating 30 years of Formula One and I won the world title. It's odd as there's so many tiny aspects of the season that I still remember. I never really thought about being world champion during the season. But then as the season drew towards the end I was a bit like 'this is getting tight' and I remember people were calling me champ at a stage when there was still a very good chance I wouldn't win the world title. I genuinely wasn't that worried about whether I would be world champion or not as I felt I'd get another chance the next season. But when I finally won, it was incredible, such a feeling of relief and it was such an emotional day as I was sad my father couldn't be there to see it. He was the one that made me a racer and influenced me to be a driver. The following race proved to be the best of my whole career at Watkin's Glen. I didn't qualify well as my engine was down. Frank Williams [the team owner] didn't question it when I got him to turn it up as I was quickest in the warm-up. But then I slipped off in the race and I thought I'd damaged the car but it was fine, although I was stuck down in 11th or 12th. Then I clawed my way through the field. Passing Carlos Reutemann was particularly satisfying and I went on to win. "But my love affair with F1 started a long time before then. I packed up from Australia in 1967 to head to England as I knew that was the only place I was going to chase my dream; I went to my first British Grand Prix that year. Racing in Australia, no one noticed and all you got was a shirt or a pair of socks for winning. I wanted to give a go at getting into Formula One, and it sounds big headed but I did believe I would get there and be world champion. Thankfully, I did it and I got to face some great drivers along the way - Ayrton Senna, Gilles Villeneuve - he was always such a hard guy to race against - Nelson Piquet. It's just odd it was all about 30 years ago."
'Difficult and aggressive' This era will forever be overshadowed by the death of Ayrton Senna at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Safety levels had already improved drastically but even more improvements were made following that tragic weekend, where another driver, Roland Ratzenberger, also lost his life in practice. Senna's was the last driver death in F1, perhaps highlighting the innovations made in F1 by the FIA and the teams. The Michael Schumacher era also began in the 1990s as he won two titles with Benetton. Mikka Hakkinen became one of Schumacher's chief rivals after leaving Lotus for McLaren. The Finn won two championships (1998 and 1999) with McLaren in a career spanning from 1991 to 2001 where he enjoyed 20 race victories. "Formula One is strange, really. I just loved it when I was racing, even though it nearly took my life in 1995. It was in Adelaide when I suffered a tyre failure and crashed into the wall. I can tell you, that hurt and I know I was lucky to survive. [Hakkinen needed an emergency tracheotomy at the side of the track.] Lying in hospital, I didn't feel lucky and maybe I could have walked away from Formula One then. It was really hard to come back both physically and psychologically. It was a really big turning point for me as I decided that I wasn't going to give up and that I wanted to be world champion. So for me, that was a big moment in F1 and a big turning point. "There were other big moments of course. I loved the 2000 Belgian Grand Prix. I remember being quicker than Michael Schumacher that day but I couldn't get past. I tried once at Les Combes and he put me on the grass. In my head I was like 'I'll get you next time' and I did. As he started to overtake Ricardo Zonta on the left, I went to the right and it worked. For me that was my best move ever in F1 and maybe my best race then. I had some good battles with Michael; for sure he was my hardest rival on the track. "I think I was a different person before my first world title. Before 1998, I think I was very tense and could be difficult and aggressive. I felt good enough to win races and be world champion but I could not do it. That changed in 1998. It was so, so tough, mega difficult. The pressure just builds and builds. You know you don't get many chances to be world champion and, when my chance came, I didn't want to lose it. I was always going to be a world champion, so maybe that made 1999 easier in some ways. But then there was more pressure to defend my title, and I did it. "Being world champion is often a difficult experience. Everyone wants so much of your time and all the time your mind is suffering and you're trying to concentrate on the racing. It was such an intense time. I miss some of the racing but I don't miss a lot of the parts."
'No such thing as easy' It was a one-man show in the early 2000s as Michael Schumacher and Ferrari dominated, and records tumbled until his last title in 2004. A younger breed of racers, such as Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, emerged, while BMW and Toyota came and went as manufacturers. The decade was overshadowed by internal politics between the FIA and the teams and the departure of FIA president Max Mosley. In 2000, Schumacher became champion again, this time with Ferrari, and rubberstamped that four more times consecutively. He retired in 2006 after 15 years in the sport with 91 wins and seven titles, but came back this year to compete again, this time with Mercedes GP. "I've been lucky to play a part in some of the 60 seasons in Formula One, and always the toughest season is the one you're in - particularly because as you know I'm very old now! Seriously, every season in F1 is so tough. Some of the seasons at Ferrari might have looked easy but that was never the case, and of course this year is difficult as well for different reasons. It's difficult looking back and picking a favourite season in F1 and best title. Maybe I'll win one next year? The first is very special as it is the first time that I became world champion and I would always be a Formula One world champion - no one could take that away from me. But the most recent is probably the most special because it's the most recent. Also, we had a very strong 2004. We won 13 of the 18 races that season, which was my most wins in one season, I think. But it certainly wasn't an easy season. There's no such thing as an easy season in Formula One. You do have some regrets in F1, like with anything in life. There are races and championships where things could have been different. If you look at 2006, I came close against Fernando Alonso but I had an engine failure and a puncture in the last two races. Maybe that could have been different, who knows? I also came close in 1997 and 1998. So, yes, maybe I could - but not should - have won more titles. I've raced many great champions both in the past and also now. For me, the greatest of all time was Ayrton Senna - a great driver and it's sad he's no longer here. The other question people ask me a lot is my favourite car. I have to say that I like what I'm driving at the moment, thank you. And the other question is my best race or best race win. That's difficult. I've driven over 250 races and probably can't remember them all. There have been many, many great races but picking a best ... that's just not possible." firstname.lastname@example.org