Evolution of Formula 1

Evolution is the lifeblood of Formula 1 - faster cars, safer cars, new circuits and fresh-faced world champions.

When the world championship began in 1950 there were seven races, 76 registered drivers and just one winner - Italian 'man of steel' Nino Farina.

Now, 64 years down the line, 22 drivers fly around the world to compete in 19 races with their sleek racing machines that can reach up to 215mph.

Would the sport be recognisable to its early protagonists?

"No, no," argues the BBC's technical analyst and former Jordan designer Gary Anderson. "We call it Formula 1 but it's changed so dramatically.

"The regulations have changed, the cars, the circuits, the length of race. Yes, it's still racing cars going round a track and there are still winners and losers but it's a completely different world."

The early pay drivers

  • In the early days of Formula 1 the wealthy could buy an F1 car - or a seat in one - and race in the world championship as privateers.
  • In 1978 only drivers with an F1 Superlicence were allowed to race and three years later private car entries were banned.

The formula for the sport may have been simple in 1950 - cars were not limited by weight and could use naturally aspirated or turbo-charged engines fixed at the front of the car - but the cauldron of competition soon moved it on.

By 1955 engines began to move towards the rear, in 1968 aerodynamic wings sprouted from the cars and in 1981 the carbon fibre chassis was invented.

And these landmarks are only just the tip of the technological advances made by F1.

"What Formula 1 does is prove the technology is possible," explained Anderson. "This is the cliff face of proving a concept.

"Aerodynamics, electronics, materials and paddle gears are just some examples of how F1 has driven technology."

The 2013 season is the final year of a set of regulations, laid out by governing body the FIA, that have been relatively stable since 2009.

F1 is preparing to move on again in 2014 when smaller turbo engines and kinetic energy recovery systems will combine to reflect a shift in road car technology towards hybrid, fuel efficient cars.

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The wealth gap between those that have and those that don't has widened

Ben Edwards BBC F1 commentator

"The engine performance will be very similar but the packaging is slightly different," predicted Anderson.

"The cars will look a bit different; the front of them won't be so high and the front wing will be a bit narrower, but I'm not sure the layman on the street will see a big difference."

If technology, and its crossover to commercial road cars, has radically altered the design of F1's speed machines have the drivers changed too?

"The style of racing and the endurance and strength aspect has changed," said the BBC's F1 commentator, and sometime racer, Ben Edwards.

"Drivers have evolved but they are the same type of people.

"The competitive instinct, a love of speed, working with machinery to feel that connection - that hasn't changed over the years.

"When you are out there driving it is just one guy in a machine trying to get the most of it."

One cold, hard F1 fact remains a certainty, evolving cars and recruiting drivers - even for drivers who pay for their own seat - is an expensive business.

The top teams spend around $375m a year while those at the back of the grid estimate their spending to be around $75m.

Commercial sponsorship in F1 was officially given the green light in 1968 but now teams rely on its revenues for an estimated 80% of their income.

Counting the cost

It's estimated that the top Formula 1 teams spend $1m a day - while those at the back of the grid spend $2m a week.

Many drivers, starting out on their careers in F1 in cash-strapped times, need to bring at least $15m to the table.

A budget cap to limit team spending to $250m a year has been proposed for 2014 - but that won't help the smaller teams further down the grid to cut costs.

"The wealth gap between those that have and those that don't has widened," said Edwards.

"Market forces will always rule at the top end of the grid but you do need something in place to make those lower teams stick around.

"Trying to bring in things that reduce costs a little bit are a good thing."

But if F1 is to continue to survive in these tough economic times then Anderson says it just needs to look back into its history - because some things haven't changed after all.

"It's never been any different," Anderson explained. "In the 60s and 70s you were there to go racing but you still had to raise the funds somehow.

"Drivers still paid to get a drive, Goodyear still paid you to go racing with their tires.

"I used to put to Eddie [Jordan, team owner] 'do you want to be a commercial company with a racing sideline or an engineering company with a commercial sideline, it's your choice.'

"That's the way it's been since the mid-70s and even more now. It's a business the same as everything."