1960 Indy 500 and the constants of the F1 formula.


An example of an Indianapolis 500 car from 1960. Although there were many differences between a 1960 Indy car and an F1 spec car, the difference in size was most noticeable. Indy cars were quite a bit larger to accommodate a larger displacement engine.

Indy + Formula 1 = A Failed Experiment.

From 1950 – 1960, the Indianapolis 500 was included in the Formula 1 championship.  Although it failed, it was grand experiment, which began at the inception of the Formula 1 championship.  The Indy 500 was included in the F1 championship as a bridge between the disparate American and European audiences.  However, AAA (now a road service company, it used to also be the governing body for American motorsport) and the FIA could never agree on a single set of rules.  Had it worked out, having F1 driver’s come to America to throw down on a ‘oval’ track, would have certainly bolstered the legitimacy and diversity of skill of the ultimate F1 season champion.  Yet, it was never meant to be.  Ultimately, what amounts to a contractual dispute over the regulatory framework prevented it from every working out.

So, here’s some footage of the final Indy 500, which qualified for F1 championship points.  Below the jump, I look at some of the constants of Formula 1.  Some things we regard as recent phenomenon have been around since the inception of the sport.

The 1960 Indy 500.

The Constants of Formula 1.


The foregoing formula is tongue in cheek.  Nevertheless, in my mind, it approximates the factors that make up the sport of F1 racing:

  • K = constant, inherent principles of motorsport and F1.
  • d = the drivers
  • c = the cars
  • Rs and Rt refer the combined sporting and technical regulations

Having only watched Formula 1 for about a decade, there have been a scenarios that I assumed were the product of the modern context of F1.  However, after going through the first 10 years of the F1 championship, I have come to realize many situations that we consider a product of the modern context of the sport, have actually been occurring since the inception of the world championship.  This post, then, is about the constants, the”K” as it were, in Formula 1.

“Some of this stuff, just isn’t new.”

Above, I discussed the regulatory and contract dispute between AAA and the FIA, which prevented the F1 from practically being a part of the Formula 1 championship, even if it was technically included.  There are other constants in the sport, as well.  Consider Vettel overtaking his teammate, against the wishes of the team.  Look at the questions directed at Kimi Räikkönen for heading to Ferrari and at Lewis Hamilton for trying something new with Mercedes.  From a historical perspective, much of the drama is Formula 1 is nothing new, history is just repeating itself.

Then Vs. Now: The Will to Win.

Frequently discussed in the posts of GPevolved, all forms of motorsports were exponentially more dangerous than they are today.  As I have discovered by walking through every F1 race since 1950, it is clear that all driver’s were well-aware of the danger.  In fact, in those days, all driver’s accepted the reality that the sport could very likely kill them.  Some merely accepted the possibility, others resigned to accepted it as being a likelihood.  Although driver’s such as Ascari, Fangio, and Moss rarely spoke about the possibility of death, it was never far from their mind.  And yet, the drove anyway.  Why did they drive?  The specific drive of these great racers may have differed; however, the common thread was an intense desire to be ultimately quickest.  In other words, the driver’s of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, stared down death every time they raced purely out of a desire to win.

As a fan of F1 since the early 2000s, I have been seen Vettel (and less recently Schumacher) accused of “winning at all costs,” as if this somehow besmirches their record.  For example, at the Turkish Grand Prix in 2010, Vettel attempted to overtake his teammate, a supposed taboo.

Vettel was heavily criticized.  For better or worse, Vettel’s “true colors” were further revealed at the 2013 Malaysian GP.  Vettel was subject to intense criticism for both incidents.  Moreover, the verbal pundit’s verbal jabs were typically leveled in a context that ‘winning at all costs’ in somehow unsportsmanlike.  In other words, these criticisms tend to suggest that winning at all costs is somehow outside of the character of yesteryear’s champions.  This is utter nonsense.

Were there great acts of sportsmanship in the 1950s?  Yes, there were examples of great sportsmanship, under very specific circumstances.  However, these same driver’s were so overwhelmingly competitive that they stared death in the eyes, just to say that they were the fastest dude out there.  From my perspective, a willingness to die just to be fastest, embodies a ‘win at all costs attitude’ much more than Vettel passing Mark Webber against the wishes of the boys on the pit wall.  Thus, modern F1 drivers may be a bit more petty; but make no mistake, the absolute desire of the driver to win, regardless of the consequences, is timeless.

Then Vs. Now: Driver Mobility.

Just as it is now, in the 1950s and 1960s, the grass was always greener at another team.  Next year, for the 2014 season, Kimi Räikkönen will be heading back to Scuderia Ferrari.  In my mind, this seems akin to a couple that remarries after divorcing.  Sometimes you hear of it working out, but always seems a bit odd.  Anyway, I am a massive Räikkönen fan, and am looking forward to see how this move works out.  For this past year, Lewis Hamilton made a surprising switch to a lesser team.  Perhaps, he had some inside knowledge of how 2013 was going to develop for McLaren (not good).  Maybe, things were so tense and uptight at McLaren, that he just needed to make a move, so he could breath.  In any event, Hamilton faced sharp criticism, even ridicule, for moving to a team viewed as racing in the middle of the pack.  If you believe the Hamilton-McLaren narrative, the intentions are noble.  A former world champion was switching teams to bring a new perspective and a bit of expertise to help reanimate a former legend of F1.  As McLaren had sponsored Hamilton since he was just a kid, a lot of critics questioned his decision.

Similarly, driver’s frequently driver’s left in the 1950’s.  The great Juan-Manuel Fangio famously jumped from team to team.  Fangio, was loyal only to himself, and his desire to win.  To do that, the driver must have the car most suited for him, and ideally, the quickest car.

In 1950, the first year of the F1 championship, Fangio was with Alfa Romeo. He jumped to Maserati and the 250F for 1953.  Once they got their car ready, Mercedes snapped up Fangio until they withdrew from racing.  For 1956, Fangio raced for Enzo at Scuderia Ferrari.  Enzo hated Fangio.  Fangio hated Enzo.  There was a war of words.  Fangio went back to Maserati, for one final season in 1957.  Along the way, he won a lot.  In any event, Fangio switched teams like it was his job.  In a sense, winning was his job.  In that capacity, I suppose switching teams is part of the job description of racing driver.  Even still, Lewis Hamilton’s decision to head to Mercedes, is a bit of an outlier.  Nevertheless, if he can pull off another world championship, with Mercedes, in the next couple seasons, the story will certainly be remembered.  Perhaps, to Lewis, it is a question of his legacy to the sport.

In Conclusion.

A race series, that combined European circuit racing, with the occasional American oval race, could have been epic.  It’s like this strange alter-reality that exists in a parallel universe.  For better or worse, it did not work out that way.  Thus, there have been contractual and regulatory disputes since the inception of the sport.  Additionally, the driver and raw self-interest are not strangers.  Driver’s have always done what they needed to do to win.  The risk of death, let alone team orders, have never stopped the driver from doing what they needed to do to be first across the finish line.  Driver’s, switch teams for a variety of reasons, but they have been doing it since the sport started.

Admittedly, I don’t have a searing single point to be made.  On the one hand, sometimes the modern media narrative is a bit too frequently “shocked and outraged” by some of the drama.  On the other hand, I still willingly buy into a lot.  It makes for good story-telling.  One thing is for certain, if behaviors have persisted for sixty years, the behaviors will probably not be leaving anytime soon.

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What examples of history repeating itself in Formula 1 can you think of?  Where do you see examples of, “this is nothing new?”

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