With over 100 years of rich history and significant advancements since the 1900 Gordon Bennet Cup, motorsport has created thousands of champions and inspired millions of fans across the globe. Here is VHR’s roundup of the greatest achievements and industry-altering moments in motorsport history.
The 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans proved a historic moment for racing speed. Whilst the previous fastest cars on the track had been the Chrysler Hemi–powered Cunningham C-5R – ‘the Smiling Shark’ – and the V-12 Ferrari.
The introduction of the new Jaguar C-types saw the dawn of a new era. The disc brakes of Jaguar’s latest invention let them carry speed further into the corners, and raised the average speed of the entire race by 9.14 mph.
Jaguar winning Le Mans inspired automotive innovations to improve speed, fan enjoyment and driver safety for the decades to come.
One of the most tragic and world-changing events in human history also had profound effect on automotive racing.
Although many racetracks had been destroyed by bombing or requisitioned for the war efforts, airfields that had been abandoned following the war provided brand new track space all across England. Silverstone is a former Class A airfield, and Goodwood and Castle Combe are also former wartime aviation sites turned motorsport fan favourites.
The post-war racing boom helped to rehabilitate and support a generation of young veterans. After the Second World War, former soldiers of all backgrounds sought out fulfilling careers in racecar engineering. Motorsport would no longer a hobby of the rich, but accessible and beloved by all.
Dominating the first decade in F1 history as a five-time winner of the World Drivers' Championship, Juan Manuel Fangio emerged victorious throughout major injuries, several near-death experiences and extreme weather conditions. During a 135º heatwave where few other drivers could even bear to compete, Fangio won a three-hour race at the 1955 Argentine Grand Prix.
Seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, who enjoys the most Formula One Grand Prix wins (91) of any driver, also leveraged extreme weather to his advantage. Schumacher drove the controversial Ferrari F310 through torrential rain in the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix to victory, winning over 45 seconds ahead from his closest rival and cementing his legendary status.
The birth of Formula E in 2011 aimed to tackle one of the industry’s biggest problems. Designed to push forward sustainability in the sport, with the overall aim ‘to reduce our carbon footprint and have a positive impact on both people and the planet’, the series divided opinion at the 2014 inaugural championship in Beijing. Fans missed the iconic sounds and faster speeds of traditional races and felt that some excitement was missing from the green F1 alternative.
However, with climate change an increasing pressure across all industries and geographies, and new and existing audiences enthusiastic for more diverse experiences, the green cars are fast winning over new fans. Ahead of its fifth season, Formula E boasted more manufacturer teams than Formula One.
Formula E has itself changed rapidly in its first few years. 2018’s season five introduced the Gen2 car with greater power and range, completely removing the need for pit stops and car changes. Recent series have seen changes to race format and significant improvements to driver safety.
The series is poised to become even more exciting in the coming years, with Mercedes-Benz and Porsche lined up for 2019-2020, and further innovation to enhance speed and fan enjoyment set to be announced.
In 1994 the Indianapolis Motor Speedway launched the global success of NASCAR with the Brickyard 400: the first non-Indy race since 1916. The event broke NASCAR attendance records and instantly became one of the US’s most profitable and popular races.
Less than 15 years later, NASCAR has overtaken Indy 500 as the most popular form of racing in America, and the Brickyard 400 is widely credited for having brought NASCAR into global prominence.
Although women have been racing for over a hundred years, their sporting achievements have not always been recognised. The British Women Racing Drivers Club (BWRDC) was founded in 1962 by Mary Wheeler MBE to encourage and promote women from racing to hill-climbing to rallying. Since then, scores of female drivers have led championships, won trophies and set records:
· 1974– Lella Lombardi became the first woman to score championship points in F1, with a P6 finish at the chaotic Spanish Grand Prix
· 1976– Former astronaut Janet Guthrie became the first woman to complete a NASCAR superspeedway event, at Charlotte Motor Speedway's World 600
· 1981-1985– Michele Mouton set a course record by winning Pikes Peak, the world’s longest and most extreme hill climb, in 1985. Mouton won four World Rally Championship events and placed second in the championship in her second year with the Audi Sport team.
· 1996 & 1997– Sabine Schmitz won the 24 Hours Nürburgring two years in a row, and secured wins and podium placements in many other races
· 2000 – At the Kentucky Indy 300, Sarah Fisher became the first woman in IndyCar history to secure a podium place and went on to achieve pole position at the same event in 2002.
· 2009 – Danica Patrick started 10thand soared past seven competitors to finish third in the Indy 500: the best finish for any woman in its history.
· 2014 – At the British Grand Prix in Silverstone, Susie Wolff was the first woman to take part in a Formula One weekend in 22 years.
The past decade has seen the introduction of new initiatives, such as the Women In Motorsport Commission in 2009 and the launch of Formula W in 2018, and more women are competing than ever before.
Register for our free event to meet former F1 Driver Martin Donnelly and hear about the excitement and life-changing moments of a career in F1.
Take a look at the Top 10 Best Formula One Drivers of All Time.