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History of the Formula 1 World Championship (2/3)


The changes undertaken at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s in the field of Formula 1 remain essentially technical, and at the same time the CSI strives to maintain the viability of the discipline, by attempting to mitigate its ever increasing costs. In order to maintain the link between F1 and the automobile industry, the use of a commercial fuel was imposed in 1958 (initially aviation gasoline); until then the cars were fueled with mixtures of free and more or less convoluted ethanols.

The end of an era (1961-1967)

But above all, in order to promote the rising generation and renew the championship, the CSI repeats its 1952 “coup”: from 1961, the technical regulations in force in Formula 1 became those used until then in Formula 2. C ' is once again a success, at least initially: the commitments multiply during the first two seasons; small and private builders are numerous to try their luck.

The British manufacturers, who had just acquired a leading position in the discipline, are hostile to this change and are slow to prepare for the switch to the new formula, so that the 1961 season is outrageously dominated by Ferrari. However, the UK sides will resume their dominance the following year. At a time when the vast majority of cars are still painted to the "national color code" - a legacy of the Gordon Bennett Cup, F1 seems to be turning definitively green, the traditional color of British single-seaters.

Thus, the BRM teams and especially Lotus, thanks to the sagacity and innovative genius of its boss and technical director Colin Chapman, will dominate the competition, later joined by the team founded by the three-time Australian world champion Jack Brabham; only the now legendary Ferrari team will be able to effectively oppose the "green tide". The great figure among the pilots is then the Scottish Jim Clark, double world champion, and whose track record could have been even more impressive without the fragility of his Lotus, and his premature disappearance in 1968. His main rivals will be Brabham and especially Graham Hill.

However, the miniaturization induced by the new formula increased the costs tenfold, each manufacturer having to spend fortunes to save a few horses to its small engines. So much so that by the middle of the decade many competitors, starting with private stables, had thrown in the towel. If it was of a very high level, contributing to the popularity of a discipline which began to be televised occasionally, the set tended to become skeletal, and in the end the effect of the new technical regulations had become the reverse of the one sought. There was no longer any justification for maintaining the "Mini F1", as it was sometimes called: in 1966, the displacement of the engines was doubled, thus marking a "return to power".

The era of change (1968-1973)

The first years were difficult, because it remained problematic to obtain an engine. In addition, the new regulations did not eliminate the problem of finances, quite the contrary. The CSI had to admit it, and in 1968 it finally allowed extra-sport sponsorship and car advertising. Always at the forefront of novelty, Colin Chapman was the first to decorate his Lotus with an advertising livery, in this case in the colors of the cigarette manufacturer Gold Leaf. In the years that followed, this practice became widespread, offering participants a healthy breath of fresh air ... and setting off a cycle of decisive change.

The other factor of these concerned the engines. In 1967, the British branch of the American automaker Ford commissioned preparers Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth, who had until then manufactured its Formula 2 engines, to design an F1 engine for 100,000 pounds - a considerable sum at the time. The result is a simple and rustic, yet powerful and robust V8, which will quickly outclass all its opponents and push Ferrari to the brink of disaster - only its takeover by FIAT will allow the Scuderia to recover. This Ford-Cosworth engine was to be sold over the counter from 1970, allowing all those involved to have a competitive engine at relatively low cost.

The combination of these two novelties will save the discipline. After a 1969 season when the number of cars at the start rarely exceeded fifteen, manufacturers multiplied from 1970, frequently entering three cars and sometimes more - there was then no limit in the matter, and occasionally doing finance each of their single-seaters by a different sponsor. This financial windfall will encourage technical creativity, with the appearance of the fins giving F1 cars an increasingly familiar appearance.

Competitors in the world championship, however, continue to pay the price in blood, as shown by the death of Jim Clark in a trivial F2 race. Few were the years without fatal accidents, and the increasing performance of single-seaters only compounded the problem. The bottom line was undoubtedly reached in 1970, when the Austrian Jochen Rindt became world champion ... posthumously, having died in the Italian Grand Prix testing. Under the leadership of British driver Jackie Stewart, who was to use all his prestige as a (soon to be three-time) world champion to improve safety at the Grand Prix, steps were to be taken, little by little, in this direction.

Professionalization of a sport (1974-1978)

The development initiated in previous years continued and was accentuated during the 1970s. Thus, the 1974 season saw the appearance in the Grand Prix of cars from 20 different manufacturers, including 9 new ones. The technical stability of Formula 1, with regulations in this area that will hardly change for a dozen years, favors projects of all kinds. In addition, this F1 more spectacular than its predecessor attracts more and more audiences, increasing the interest of potential sponsors and thus generating a virtuous spiral.

This transformation is not without side effects. Independent drivers are disappearing and private teams are scarce: sponsorship money makes it easier to develop your own car, which can then be motorized inexpensively by Ford-Cosworth. Becoming a builder is therefore easier, and many are giving it a try. F1 is so flourishing that the two oil shocks of 1973 and 1980 have practically no effect on this trend.

On the other hand, money remains the sinews of war and it must be earned: stable managers are therefore forced to turn into financiers rather than technicians, and not all of them necessarily succeed in this game. Many teams thus have a fleeting existence, sometimes appearing in only one race. Some leaders are more adept than others at the art of sponsor hunting; This is the case, for example, of Frank Williams, who managed to lead half a dozen different structures in ten years, all doomed to disappear quickly, before achieving success from 1978.

The British teams continue to dominate the new F1: in Lotus and Brabham soon join Tyrrell and McLaren. Faced with them, and the Ford-Cosworth engine, Ferrari is the only one to stand up successfully. In 1970, the Scuderia introduced an engine with an original architecture: a flat 12-cylinder "boxer". Used for 11 consecutive seasons, it will see the "Reds" dominate the championship between 1975 and 1979, with seven world titles (three "drivers" and four "manufacturers") in the space of five seasons. Overall, it's time for technical daring and exuberance, as evidenced by the famous six-wheel Tyrrell P34.

The level among the drivers is increasingly high, because the promotion formulas fulfill their role as a reservoir of young talents better than ever (Formula 2 has been organized in the European Championship since 1967). In the foreground, to Stewart, who retired in 1973, succeed Emerson Fittipaldi, then Niki Lauda. The latter made an impression in 1976: seriously injured in an accident which left him disfigured, he returned to competition only six weeks later, to finally voluntarily give up his chances of a world title during the last race, contested in a rain. torrential - "I prefer life", he will say simply to justify his gesture. Attitude symptomatic of a time when security is improving slowly and remains a secondary concern. Many tragedies, however easily avoidable, will still occur, through amateurism or negligence.

To be continued...


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