In 1949, after the first season of the newly organized world championships sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale Motocyliste, the CSI entertained a motion from the Italian representatives that a similar world championship series be inaugurated for the following year, 1950, the Championnat du Monde des Conducteurs – the World Championship of Drivers. For 1950, the CSI approved the idea and put together a series of events for the championship, one of the rounds being the International Sweepstakes. This was not merely a sop to American interests – which it was, but recognition of the fact that the race was a genuine Grande Épreuve and had been included in the first CSI world championship in 1925. The only change to the International Formula A/ I/ 1, was that the events should have a minimum distance of 300 kilometers and a minimum duration of three hours. This was clearly intended for the Grande Épreuve races, although many of the other races run to the International Formula 1 also met these criteria.
So, before 1950 there was “F1.” By the 1950 season, “International Formula A” and “International Formula B” had become “Formula I” and “Formula II” – but usually now simply “Formula 1” (F1) and “Formula 2” (F2). 1950 merely gets attention because of the CSI decision to launch a new world championship that season. Formula 1/ F1 was already in existence and record books already written when the Royal Automobile Club British Grand Prix, which was also given the grandiose and basically meaningless title as the Grand Prix d’Europe.
In the early stages of the FIASCO Wars, the struggle between the FISA and the Formula One Constructors’ Association – FOCA (a story mostly already told), the President of the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA), Jean-Marie Balestre did a pre-emptive strike that whistled right by just about every one when it – he killed the Championnat du Monde des Conducteurs (the World Championship of Drivers) that the CSI had established in late 1949.
On 15 April 1980, Balestre proposed to the FIA Rio Congress that the current championship be terminated (the word used in the English translation is “suppressed”). Instead, Balestre proposed that as of 1 January 1981, there be the “FIA Formula One World Championship.” Unlike the world championship began by the CSI, this new – note the word – championship would be the property of the FIA and the FISA would act as its agent plenipotentiary. This was clearly meant to convey that the FIA and the FISA owned the championship, including all the commercial and financial aspects of the series. This also meant that the FIA/ FISA owned the title, something that it didn’t beforehand.
The old championship officially ceased to exist on 31 December 1980. Unlike the “new” championship, the “old” championship was not run exclusively to International Formula 1. The International Sweepstakes events from 1954 to 1960, along with the events of 1952 and 1953 which were run to the International Formula 2 (the International Sweepstakes being the exception), are proof of this.
In December 1969, during a period when some scarcely concealed ill will existed between the FOCA and the CSI and the organizers – it was get worse by 1972, the CSI authorized race organizers to add F2 cars (properly ballasted to the F1 minimum weight, of course) to the grid of world championship events if it were that there were insufficient entries. In 1972, the CSI threatened to support the organizers to throwing open the world championship to not only F1 and F2 cars, but those complying to the F5000 and USAC formula as well. However, when it came to the crunch, the CSI backed down while the FOCA didn’t even blink.
So, perhaps now it is common acceptance the FIA F1 World Championship and its records dates back to the 1981 season. One of the things that came about as a result of this “new” championship is that all – as in each and every one – rounds in the FIA F1 WDC are now considered to be a Grande Épreuve, whether the event dates back to 1906, 1911, or is new this year. So much for the answer that should have been given as to whether something is a Grand Prix or a Grande Épreuve…
This is an excerpt from an RVM column that, apparently, no one read. :