An Ode to Formula One

An Ode to Formula One

By Alex Saunders


As the dust settles on the Olympic Village and perhaps one of the finest periods in our nation’s sporting history meets its unwanted conclusion, we, the sports fan will inevitably turn our attentions back to our everyday sporting pursuits. The days where double trap shooting, judo and other periphery sports dominate our consciousness are beginning to fade. I no longer find myself shouting ‘Go on son!’ at the Team GB slalom canoeists on television. Soap operas return to our screens where the proud smiles of Olympiads once stole the limelight.

Whilst the Olympics offered an array of sports many may not have encountered before, there is sense of comfort in returning to the familiarity of our regular sporting pleasures. Personally, I will be returning my focus to a sport that has progressed more than any other in the last sixty-five years, one that has brought tragedy and jubilation simultaneously and one that offers the most delicate balance of technique, speed and strategy. No, not football, but Formula One.

Billy Jacobs Bygone Years Formula One Driver

Billy Jacobs Bygone Years Formula One Driver

My grandfather Billy Jacobs, a Formula One driver himself, introduced me to the sport from an early age. Although he never competed in a world championship, he regularly faced the legends of British racing such as Stirling Moss, Graham Hill and Jim Clark on the track. The sport then, however, is almost unrecognisable from the glamorous, sponsor-driven spectacle played out on the global stage today.

Formula One in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, during the period my grandfather drove, was captivating and hazardous in equal measure.

Billy Jacobs Formula One in the 1950's

Billy Jacobs Formula One in the 1950’s

Where high safety standards are now a trademark of modern Formula One, there were very few – if any – safety regulations during the formative years of the sport. The cars were designed purely for speed, with front engines and drum brakes; it provided an exhilarating viewing experience, but at a cost. Deaths on the track were an accepted risk by the drivers and as many as fifteen lives were taken during the 1950’s, with four occurring in 1958 alone. Technologically the progression of the sport has been paramount to no other. The car the first ever world champion, Nino Farina, drove in 1950 had a 1.5L supercharged engine, thin-tread tyres and was without any weight restrictions. 1950's Formula OneDrivers had one or two mechanics to assist with maximising the performance of the car, but often, as was true with my grandfather, the drivers were heavily responsible for the maintenance of the vehicle themselves. It is hard to imagine when considering today’s Formula One teams, comprised of hundreds of personnel scrutinising every aspect of the cars performance, and the cars themselves which are equipped with powerful V8 2.4L engines producing an astounding 19,000-rpm.

The commerciality of the sport has changed significantly too. Formula One in the modern era has a veneer of glamour; the cars are dressed from top to bottom in advertisements, consumer brands dominate the constructor listings and the drivers are celebrities who mix with the upper echelons of society. The early years of Formula One racing were more modest times. The drivers, like my grandfather, were not superstars but normal, ordinary men who had a day-job to return to when their job on the track was finished. There was very little commercial enterprise and it was not until the 1970’s that constructors started using the sport as a means to market themselves. The profits generated from the sport nowadays are insurmountable, rising to a reported $1.08 billion in 2011, with teams receiving $658 million in price money. Whilst Formula One was always popular, it has moved into a league that I am sure many involved with the sport could never have imagined when it began in 1950.

Looking to the future there are plans to expand to untraveled territories, with proposed circuits in Croatia, Ukraine and Austin, Texas. Undoubtedly rules and regulations will continue to evolve and teams will further pioneer automotive technology to get the fastest cars possible. Formula One in the modern day may be a completely different beast to the one that my grandfather was involved in, but one thing is for certain, it is still as absorbing and engaging as it ever was.

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About Alex
Law student and trainee solicitor at Leathes Prior with effect from 2014

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