The history of the name ‘Grand Prix’ may be confusing, but it is quite interesting. English is the official language in Formula 1 these days, so why do we still call it Grand Prix, which is French for Grand Prix? Ahead of this weekend’s F1 race at Circuit Paul Ricard in France, we’re diving deep into the books to find out what was happening in motorsport a hundred years ago.
By the end of the nineteenth century, races consisted of city-to-city time trials. The event considered to be the first motor race was the 1894 Paris-Rouen. As the name suggests, it was a race from Paris to Rouen, but the official name was Concours du ‘Petit Journal’ Les Voitures sans Chevaux. Translated into Dutch, it was a ‘competition for coaches without horses’ and it was organized by Le Petit Journal, a newspaper at the time. Count Jules-Albert de Dion finished first, but was disqualified because his steam car required a stoker, which was prohibited. Seven years later in 1901, the name Grand Prix first appeared.
The Grand Prix is misunderstood
In 1900 a race was run from Pau to Tarbes to Bayonne and back to Pau and was 330 kilometers long in one lap. The event was called the Circuit du Sud-Ovest, which is Dutch for Tour of the Southwest. A year later, the first prizes were awarded to the winners in the name of ‘Grand Prix’. The Grand Prix de Pau is a class for cars weighing 650 kilograms or more. The Grand Prix du Palais d’Hiver is divided into two: one for cars weighing between 400 and 650 kilograms and one for cars weighing less than 400 kilograms. So the prizes were called Grands Prix, but not the race itself. It may have been mistranslated by the English press, who thought a race was a Grand Prix.
The first real Grand Prix
The Automobile Club de France (ACF) was the first organization to officially call the race a Grand Prix. In 1906, the Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France, simply the Grand Prix of France, was held around Le Mans. Hungarian Ferenc Zys won the 1,238 kilometer race in his Renault after 12 hours and 15 minutes. However, the ACF played a political game from the 1920s onwards. The Paris-Bordeaux-Paris of 1895, the first car race to have the same starting point as its finishing point, was renamed I. [de Romeinse ‘I’ om aan te geven dat het de eerste was] Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France. The 1906 Le Mans race became known as the IX Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France. Thus the ACF said that the tribes did not organize themselves. For example, it is debatable whether the name Grand Prix was in 1895, 1901 or 1906.
Championship for Formula 1
Until 1924 only individual races were held, but the name Grand Prix was increasingly adopted from tradition. Perhaps to gain name recognition and simply there were many French organizations and races. The first championship was held in 1925: a world construction competition organized by the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnaissances (AIACR), founded in 1904. The four most important Grands Prix were selected: the Indianapolis 500, the Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps, the French GP at Montréal and the Italian GP at Monza. Only got points for that. Alfa Romeo beat Duesenberg and Bugatti by a narrow margin. At that time, you got one point for a win, two points for second place, and so on, so the brand with the fewest points won. In 1931, the AIACR introduced the European Drivers’ Championship. Alfa Corse teammates Giuseppe Campari and Ferdinando Minoia scored an equal number of points, but the latter took the title as he clocked more miles.
Next to Formula 1 is the Grands Prix
The first Formula 1 technical regulations were drawn up and applied in 1947, and the first Formula 1 championship was held in 1950, with a separate Grands Prix three seasons later. As in the 1920s and 1930s, as many Grands Prix were held in the 1950s and 1960s. Only the most important races selected by the FIA can earn points for the World Championships. The last Formula 1 race not to count in the race points standings was the 1983 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, won by Williams driver and then defending champion KK Rosberg. Even today, two national grands prix are held outside of Formula 1. The Macau Grand Prix at the famous Kuya Street circuit is one of them. The race was supposed to be run with Formula 3 cars, but due to the pandemic it has been part of the Chinese Formula 4 Championship since 2020. Dutchman Richard Verchuer was the last Formula 3 winner on a tight but fast track. Another is the New Zealand Grand Prix, which is part of the Toyota Racing Series. Verture won both races, with the exception of Roberto Moreno.
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