Racing into
the new year

Racing into the new year 01

A blink of an eye compared to the winter break between 1950 and 1951, for example: the first two championship seasons. Back then, the off season lasted more than 30 weeks, between Monza on September 3 and mid-May, which is when the Swiss Grand Prix happened that opened the 1951 season. But even without going back that far, there was a four-month break in the 1980s. Between the 1987 Australian Grand Prix and the tests before the 1988 Brazilian Grand Prix there was a gap of 124 days, for example.

With the current calendar of 20 or 21 races, there’s little time to draw breath, compared to the calendar of 15 or 16 races 30 or so years ago. But Formula 1 history is always full of exceptions. Many times in the past there were races in the depths of winter, sometimes still with a long break before the start of the bulk of the season. They were nearly always outside Europe, prior to the start of the European season and its rhythm of a race every two weeks or so. 

In 1953, for example, the Argentinian Grand Prix made its world championship debut – on January 18. The next race of the season at Indianapolis would not take place until May 30, before the European season began. The Buenos Aires race was a regular fixture until 1960, followed by a break until 1972, when the race returned to the calendar on January 23.

Racing into the new year 02

The following year, the championship began with the line-up of Argentina and Brazil: two races separated by two weeks in January and the beginning of February, followed by a trip to South Africa at the start of March and then the European season, normally in Spain towards the end of April. 

European fans would remember the exotic start of the F1 season as being summery: with drivers and spectators practically in beach clothes. Often, the fans at races had to be sprayed by the fire crews to cool down. In Buenos Aires in 1978, there was also the spectacle of helmeted Argentine soldiers in the pits, clutching their rifles. It was a reflection of the times, with the ‘desaparecidos’ of the era subjected to torture and interrogations only kilometres from where the race took place..

Racing into the new year 03

But in South Africa, as far as strange dates go, it went one step further. In 1968, the South African Grand Prix at Kyalami – on the outskirts of Johannesburg, at the peak of apartheid – the first race of the year took place on New Year’s day! And there was apparently an amazing party the night before: Champagne, ballgowns, music, and laughter until the small hours, ringing in the New Year even though the grand prix would get underway in only a few hours. But given the social scene around F1 races back then, compared to how it is now, that hardly comes as a surprise…

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