x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Retro F1: Daring drivers, marvellous machines

M takes a historical look at the brave amateurs and classic cars that made the Grands Prix of yesteryear, as we celebrate Abu Dhabi's Formula One this weekend.

Hellé Nice, a model and driver, takes a breather at the 1934 Grand Prix de Comminges, France.
Hellé Nice, a model and driver, takes a breather at the 1934 Grand Prix de Comminges, France.

Imagine the scene: Monaco in 1929, the French cars are blue, the British ones are British racing green, the Italian cars are red (what else?) and the Germans are sporting white. The race gets under way and the cars hurtle around the principality for 78 laps, before a Brit, William Grover-Williams, driving a Bugatti, emerges victorious.

The former chauffeur would win a total of seven grands prix before becoming a special agent who fought against the Nazis in occupied France. He was caught and executed by the Germans in 1945.

Eighty-two years later, the Monaco circuit may be more or less the same, but everything else has changed. Drivers do not accidentally become grand prix winners; the competition is such that they are groomed from an early age. The cars no longer represent countries, but brands, and the money generated by the sponsors and TV deals has made it a global business enterprise that is controlled more by the men who run the money side of things than the actual drivers.

In this four-page photo essay, we look back to a more serene time of motor racing, to the days of amateur drivers and mechanics who smoked in the pits. We also look back at icons of Formula One with stars such as Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart. And we remember the greatest star of them all, Ayrton Senna, pictured below after one of his first significant wins. Before his tragic death at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994, he won the Monaco Grand Prix six times, more than any other driver.

As much as we love progress here at M, we hope that record remains forever unbroken.