Grand Prix and other racing cars from the 1890’s up until 1949
The first road race was more of a trial event to test the reliability of the newly-invented automobile than a race, and was held in 1894 between Paris and Rouen. There followed a number of long distance races between cities, such as Paris to Vienna, before they were banned for becoming too dangerous.
The Gordon Bennett Cup was held from 1900 to 1905 as a competition between national automobile clubs and in America, the Vanderbilt Cup began in 1904. But it was in France that the first recognised Grand Prix was held, on a closed-circuit of 65 miles near Le Mans in 1906. This was won by Hungarian Ferenc Szisz driving a Renault.
Purpose-built racing tracks soon followed – Brooklands was built in 1907 and Indianapolis in 1909. In the 1920’s, Monza was opened in 1922 and Linas-Montlhéry – a personal favourite – in 1924. Spa-Francorchamps held its first race in 1922 and the first Monaco Grand Prix was in 1929.
The first manufacturers to produce successful racing cars were companies such as Renault, Mercedes, FIAT and ITALA. Bugatti and Alfa Romeo followed and in the 1930’s, there was a great rivalry between Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz.
Many drivers became household names. Louis Chiron, Rudolf Caracciola, Bernd Rosemeyer and Richard Seaman all became famous, but perhaps the best of them all was Tazio Nuvolari, “Il Mantovano Volante”. Beginning his racing career on motorbikes, he had great success driving many different types of car in many different events, from small MGs to the mighty Auto Unions. Today there is a Museum in the centre of Mantua dedicated to his memory – it’s well worth a visit. http://www.tazionuvolari.it
After WWII, racing began again in Europe with victories for Talbot of France and for Italian makes Alfa Romeo and Maserati. In 1946, the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) standardised the rules for Grand Prix racing. This led to the formation of the Formula One World Championship for drivers, which began in 1950.