Then and Now – First Race of the Season (Part 1- 1958 to 1988)

Looking back over the history of Formula 1 ten years at a time can reveal some interesting points in the evolution of the sport.  This article examines the size and competitiveness of the field and notes some of the changes that have taken place which have shaped Formula 1 over the decades.

1958 – The opening race of the season was held in Argentina on the 19th of January that year.  Although the season was only 11 races long, it stretched all the way until the 19th of October, and included the Indianapolis 500 which was not run to Formula 1 regulations, and included no regular F1 teams or drivers.  For the first race of the year, only ten drivers entered driving three different makes of car:

Maserati 250F – six cars from five teams – definitely customer cars here;

Cooper T43 – one car, again a customer car and the only rear engined car in the race;

Ferrari 246 – three cars for the works team.

While Ferrari were the only works team represented it is worth noting that this marked a return to the team constructing its own car, after using the Lancia D50 for the previous two seasons, after Lancia gave the cars to Ferrari in 1955.  After all Ferrari started out running cars for the Alfa Romeo factory before the second world war, and only started manufacturing its own cars post war due to a shortage of suitable racing cars.  If there was a faster alternative available, the team would run someone else’s cars.  The Maserati used a 2.5 litre straight six engine, the Ferrari a 2.4litre V6 while the Cooper had a Climax 2.0 litre in-line four cylinder.  Each make of car ran its own make of tyres: Pirelli for Maserati; Continental for Cooper and Englebert for Ferrari.

Juan Manuel Fangio qualified his Maserati on pole with a time of 1’42.0” 0.6 seconds  ahead of the Ferrari’s of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins.  The tenth (and final) qualifier was Horace Gould in 1’51.7”.  So pole position was won with a margin of 0.59% while tenth place was 9.51% slower than pole.  The Forix database doesn’t record fastest laps for this event, so comparisons with the pole position time are not possible.

Stirling Moss won in his Cooper in a time of 2 hours 19’33.7”.  This was the first F1 victory for a car with the engine behind the driver, although the front engined cars would have this as their last championship victory(Ferrari’s Mike Hawthorn won the driver’s title, and Vanwall won the first Constructor’s cup despite not being present at the opening race).  Moss was 2.7 seconds ahead of Luigi Musso’s Ferrari, and pole sitter Fangio was the last unlapped runner back in fourth place.  Moss won the race by nursing his tyres to last the distance without having to stop to change them.  This was necessary as his car was not fitted with quick change ‘knock off’ wheels and a pit stop to change tyres would take far longer for the Cooper than any of his rivals. Nine of the ten starters were classified at the finish.  Points were awarded 8, 6, 4, 3, 2 for first to fifth place, with a single point to the fastest lap.

1968 – This season started early, the first race was on New Year’s day in South Africa, and twelve races later it would conclude on 3rd November in Mexico.  With the second race of the season not until 12th May it is unsurprising that none of the teams used their 1968 cars for the season opener. Twenty five drivers were entered, many of them in customer cars several years old:

McLaren – a single works M5A for the reigning world champion Denny Hulme;

Brabham – two BT24s for the works team, a BT20 and two BT11s as customer cars;

Lotus – two 49s for the works team;

Eagle – a single works T1G;

Honda – a single works RA300;

Ferrari – three works 312s;

BRM – two P126s and a P115 all works entries;

Cooper – a T81B and T86 for the works team with tow T81 and a single T79 as customer cars;

Matra – a single MS9 and a single MS7 for the works entry and a customer MS7 (note the MS7s were F2 cars);

LDS – a single LDS 3 for Team Gunston – a make and team I know very little about.

Tyre makes are recorded for some of the entries, but not all.  They were from Goodyear, Firestone and Dunlop.  This being the third year of the 3.0 litre normally aspirated (1.5 litre forced induction) engine regulations, all the teams used normally aspirated engines and only Lotus and Matra were using the Cosworth V8 that would come to dominate this regulation period.  There were V12s from BRM, Weslake, Honda, Ferrari and Maserati.  A solitary H16 from BRM, while V8s were provided by Repco in addition to Cosworth and there were in-line four cylinder engines from Climax, with the F2 cars using Cosworth 1.6 litre in-line fours.

Pole position, fastest lap and the race win were all set by Jim Clark who led all the way to the flag in his final world championship Grand Prix.  Pole was 1’21.6” a full second faster than his team mate Graham Hill.  Tenth place was taken by Pedro Rodríguez in 1’24.9”.  In the race Clark did not need such a margin and his fastest lap was 1’23.7” while the second fastest driver on race day was Jackie Stewart with 1’24.2”.  The tenth fastest was Andrea de Adamich lapping at 1’26.5” for his fastest lap.   Pole was a massive 1.23% faster than second place, with the top ten covered by 4.04%.

The Pole lap was 2.57% faster than the fastest race lap while Clark’s fastest lap was 0.6% faster than Stewart’s and 3.35% faster than de Adamich’s.  On the face of it the race was closer than qualifying, but Clark finished 25.3 seconds ahead of his team mate Hill by the end of the race, with third placed Jochen Rindt the only other driver on the lead lap.  Only nine of the 23 starters were classified at the finish.  Points were awarded 9, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1 for first to sixth place.

1978 – The season had grown to 16 races, but still started early with the first two Grands Prix in January, the opening event being the Argentine GP on 15th January.  The end of the season was slightly earlier on the 8th October in Canada.  Teams now had permanent numbers for their two car entries, with only the team of the World Champion driver swapping numbers with the previous incumbent.  Two car teams were entered for the following constructors:










While single car teams were entered by other constructors:








Two single car customer teams entered running a Lotus and a McLaren, making 29 entries in total.  Although Renault had entered the British Grand Prix in 1977 with its 1.5 litre turbo charged car, it was not yet reliable enough to enter a full season, so all the cars were powere by 3.0litre normally aspirated engines.  Flat 12s from Alfa Romeo and Ferrari, a Matra V12, but 24 cars were powered by the Cosworth V8.  There were two tyre manufacturers represented, with Ferrari using Michelin and the rest supplied by Goodyear.

Mario Andretti took pole in his Lotus in 1’47.75” just nine hundredths of a second faster than Carlos Reuteman in his second place Ferrari.  Patrick Depailler was tenth with a time of 1’49.69 in his Tyrrell.  Gilles Villeneuve took fastest race lap for Ferrari in 1’49.76”, 0.30” faster than Depailler’s Tyrrell, while Jacques Laffite recorded the tenth fastest race lap in his Ligier in 1’51.72”.

The margin from pole to second place on the grid was just 0.08% with the top ten covered by 1.80%.  The fastest race lap was 1.87% slower than the pole time.  In the race the field had a similar spread with the second fastest driver being 0.27% slower and the top ten covered by 1.79%.  At the finish Andretti won by 13.21” with 11 cars on the lead lap, 18 of the 24 starters were classified at the finish.

1988 – This season again comprised the now routine 16 races, and the season had compressed slightly with most of the events a fortnight apart.  The season started on 3rd April in Brazil and would continue until 13th November in Australia.  By now teams had to enter all the races of the championship although there were still more entries than could be accommodated in the race, so not everyone qualified.  31 cars were entered for the opening round, all constructors of their own chassis.  Five were single car teams (AGS, Osella, Rial, Coloni and Scuderia Italia), the vast majority were two car teams (Lotus, Tyrrell, Williams, Zakspeed, McLaren, March, Arrows, Benetton, Minardi, Ligier, Ferrari, Larrousse and Euro Brun).  This was the final year of the 1.5 litre turbo charged engines, before they were banned.  Six teams were using the turbos from five different manufacturers (Honda V6, Zakspeed in-line 4, Megatron in-line 4, Osella V8 and Ferrari V6).  The rest of the teams had moved to the 3.5 litre normally aspirated engines.  These were V8s from Judd and Cosworth (DFZ, DFR and a single 3.0 litre DFV for Scuderia Italia).  By this time all the tyres were supplied by Goodyear.

Ayrton Senna took pole position in his turbo charged McLaren Honda, with a time of 1’28.096” (timing had now standardised to the thousandths of a second), this being 0.536” faster than Nigel Mansell’s Normally aspirated Williams Judd in second place.  The sole on board camera was carried by Satoru Nakajima on his turbo charged Lotus Honda in tenth place who qualified with a time of 1’31.280”.  With only 30 cars allowed on the circuit at any one time, pre-qualifying was needed. The top 26 cars in the championship were allowed to go through to qualifying proper, but the remaining six had an hour session from 07:00 – 08:00 on the Friday morning to set a time to decide which five cars could participate in the rest of the weekend.  This was before any of the free practice sessions, and with teams not having the masses of computer data, the cars needed to be set up and a time set in this one hour session.  When it came to qualifying, only 26 cars would make the grid.  A new team would need to pre-qualify for the first six months of its existence, and only if its cars were amongst the 26 top qualifiers during that six month period would it gain the right to skip this early morning ritual.

In qualifying the pole margin was 0.61%, while the top ten were covered by 1.80%. In the race the Ferrari’s set the fastest laps, Gerhard Berger’s 1’32.943” exactly a quarter of a second faster than Michele Albereto.  The tenth fastest driver in the race was Derek Warwick in his Arrows Megatron stopping the clocks at 1’35.020.  So the race pace was a staggering 5.50% slower than qualifying, while the spread of the field was similar (a 0.27% gap to second fastest and 2.23% gap to tenth).  Four of the top ten cars were normally aspirated in qualifying, while three of the fastest top ten were normally aspirated come the race.  In a bid to encourage teams to switch to the 3.5 litre engines early, the boost pressure had been reduced to a maximum of 2.5 bar (from 4.0 bar the year before), and the fuel allowance reduced to 150 litres (from 195 litres in 1987). Normally aspirated engines had unlimited fuel, although re-fuelling had been banned in 1984 so this was limited by the design of the car.  Much like now, drivers were fuel saving through the race, unlike now when they got it wrong they failed to finish as they ran out of fuel as the telemetry wasn’t as accurate as now.  Alain Prost won the race in his McLaren Honda by 9.873 seconds from Berger’s Ferrari.  Five cars finished on the lead lap and nine were classified finishers.  Pole sitter Senna was disqualified for changing his car after the green flag had been shown for the parade lap, however he was running in the race until lap 31.  Grid penalties for Power Unit or gearbox changes may be frustrating, but to be disqualified half way through the race for an infringement that took place before the start would surely be worse?

Coming soon: (Part 2- 1998 to 2018)

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sunny stivala

LDS and GUNSTON:LDS, Louis Douglas Serrurier build cars based on Coopers and Brabham using customer engines. never scored any championship points.
Gunston: a name used by John Love. in FI he used customer cars and engines. was the first to use sponsorship livery.

sunny stivala

He is credited as being the first to have used sponsorship livery.
And DAVE, you might be right saying COOPER was the first rear engine “F1” car but that is only if in your opinion their is a difference/if you feel you out to differentiate between “GP RACING AND F1 RACING”.
Also good stuff from you/good read on TPF, this site needs more of this stuff, especially technical stuff.

sunny stivala

“the Auto Unions didn’t cause a change out in layout by others” no they didn’t, might be that can be contributed to the then “men of stronger conviction”. But the Auto Union tropflewagon of 32 were the forerunners of all modern F1 designs. As I said, depends on how you define GP and F1 cars. Of which to me are one and the same. First rear engine GP car was the 34 Auto Union. Brabham drove a 2l cooper in 55 British GP (Bristol engine) with the engine in the rear. The Bugatti entry for fifty six French GP was… Read more »

sunny stivala

Those that have really shaped formula 1 as we know it today over the years. The never raced nineteen forty nine Cisitalalia 1.5l flat 12 rear engine (actually mid-engine) by DR eng Ferdinand Porsche. “Astonishingly in the confusion that was post-war Europe, contact was made in nineteen forty six between Dusio in Turin and the Porsche engineers who were still at the-sawmill in Gmund Austria where they had been relocated during the war. Dusio asked Porsche office to design a car for the new formula 1. The relevant contracts were signed on 3 February nineteen forty seven. Porsche suggested a… Read more »

sunny stivala

There existed a rear engine rear wheel drive cars, as well as rear mid-engine rear wheel drive cars as well as a BI-motor with one front and one rear engine. Some have the misconception that a flat type/layout/design of engine is always a boxer type, which of course it is not the case. A flat type/layout/design (opposed cylinders) engine is still regarded as a 180 DEGREE V ENGINE as long as each crankpin carries 2 adjacent connecting rods. A flat type/layout/design (opposed cylinder) engine is referred to as a “BOXER” as long as each connecting rod rides on a separate… Read more »


Brilliant work Dave. I’m not sure why these ‘Then and Now’ articles disappear off the TPF homepage so quickly. I caught a glimpse of the post of one of them one day, and not since that. I had to search to find it, and I’m glad I did. I had a similar look back on those seasons, after the Melbourne Gp, and the rate of evolution of F1 from 50’s to 60’s to 70’s to 80’s is staggering. In the 50’s and early 60’s it appears that the cars, teams, drivers were all quite amateur. Basically rich guys playthings, with… Read more »


Indeed they are, but quite a long way down, further south than most would get.