Formula 1 in China:
the 1000th grand prix

Formula 1 in China: the 1000th grand prix 01

The number 1000 makes you stop and take notice. Who would have thought back on that windy Saturday of May 1950 in Silverstone – the very first Formula 1 race valid for the world championship – that the 1000th one would eventually take place not far from the Great Wall of China? Back then (on 13 May 1950, to be precise) a young Elizabeth II, yet to become Queen of England, was there to see the beginnings of this high octane competition. Wrestling with their cars in front in her, in their flimsy overalls and slicked-back hair (helmets didn’t become compulsory until 1953) were the gladiators of the day: Juan Manuel Fangio – who would go on to win five titles – and Giuseppe Farina, who would claim the first F1 race and championship with Alfa Romeo.

It was the symbol of a Europe that was emerging from the Second World War, showcasing technology and hope for the future. Once more, there was a passion for racing and competition, casting aside the shadow that Hitler had spread over Europe. Everything was in place to write a new chapter in human history centred around speed and cars, technology that aimed at new horizons, heroes with almost superhuman courage. At the forefront were Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Mercedes: iconic entities that are still around today.

Formula 1 in China: the 1000th grand prix 02

In China on that day, Mao Tse Tung had been at the head of the Peoples’ Republic for less than a year. Over the following four decades, China’s streets were mainly filled with bicycles rather than cars. Let alone racing cars.

But Formula 1 travels quickly. Often faster than time. When the first grand prix was run in Shanghai in 2004 – the same track where Formula 1 now celebrates 1000 races – and Rubens Barrichello won for Ferrari, China was already very different. It was in fact well on the road to the sophisticated China we see today, demonstrating the Formula 1-like pace at which the country has evolved.

One thing that the first and 1000th race have in common is Pirelli. Back in 1950 the tyres weren’t yet called P Zero, but they still reflected the finest technology of the day. The same ground-breaking levels of technical excellence remain in evidence now, for the current generation of cars and races. Pirelli has been present throughout long periods of Formula 1 history, as the protagonist of several changes.

Formula 1 in China: the 1000th grand prix 03

Just in the last nine years, since the P Zero name returned to Formula 1 in 2011, a number of innovations have happened: a rainbow of colours to signify different compounds and levels of performance, as well as 25% wider tyres introduced in 2017 that demolished lap records. Right up to this season, the technology has improved year on year with new constructions and compounds, equipping Formula 1 cars that are quicker than they have ever been.

Up next is the 18-inch tyre, which in 2021 will succeed the 13-inch tyre that has been the norm in F1 for decades. Not only will it be a technological revolution, but it also changes the look of everything drastically – with F1 tyres much closer to the road tyres that make Pirelli the world leader when it comes to ultra high performance. It’s part of a package of innovations that will usher in a whole new era of Formula 1. In the end, 1000 races have passed by quite quickly. Pirelli knows it. And it’s ready for the next 1000.

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