The inaugural Formula One Grand Prix took place in 1950 and was won by an Italian driver, Nino Farina, driving an Alfa Romeo. Italian auto giant Ferrari is the only team to have participated to every single season, winning 215 races and more championships than any other team. These numbers clearly show that Italy and Formula One go a long way back. For many years, Italy was actually able to host two races in the same season, one in Monza--the traditional home of the Italian Grand Prix--and another one in Imola, at the Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit. The track at Imola has a morbid claim to fame as the place where Brazilian racing icon Ayrton Senna died in 1994; it was taken off the F1 calendar a few years back. These days there are talks to bring a race to Rome in what would no doubt be a very highly anticipated Grand Prix.
We'll briefly explain to American readers, who may not be familiar with Formula One, what it is: Formula One is a car world championship divided into 18 races, which take place in countries all over the globe. The United States hasn't hosted a race in ages, but had famous ones in the past in Long Beach, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Indianapolis. This year, finally, Formula One will come back to the US, with the Austin Grand Prix.
Similar to Indy and Formula Cart, F1 has been a sport largely dominated by Italian and British teams. These teams have not only won the most, but have also invested huge amounts of money in developing their cars and achieving technological results that are not only good for the sport, but also for these companies' regular cars that are produced for the road.
There was a time when Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Ferrari were the strongest teams in the championship. Today all three belong to Fiat and only Ferrari remains in F1.
First F1 Grand Prix in History - May 13rd, 1950
Besides Ferrari and the other cars, however, Italy has a long tradition of F1 drivers who raced for decades and created at least in part the almost mythological allure of this sport.
Aside from the glorious history of Ferrari and a name for making top rate cars, Italy also has a long tradition of great F1 drivers including Farina, Riccardo Patrese, Alberto Ascari, Tazio Nuvolari, Elio De Angelis, Andrea De Cesaris, Michele Alboreto, the Fabi brothers, Bruno Giacomelli, Riccardo Paletti and most recently Giancarlo Fisichella, Jarno Trulli and Vitantonio Luzzi. Unfortunately some of them died while driving, and we would like to remember DeAngelis, Alboreto and Paletti, just to mention the most recent ones to have passed away. The natural danger of this sport and the long list of deaths often made the Italian media very strong opponents of Formula 1 and for this reason Enzo Ferrari often looked for foreign drivers to fill his cars.Today, with car safety at an all time high, the Italian media have actually begun to focus on Ferrari's historic wins, which have been smashing record after record.
F1 Track Simulator - Mark Webber at Monza
The prestige of winning or simply participating in Formula One is so important that investments into the sport skyrocketed, until the international federation decided it was time to start controlling them, and began imposing strict rules and regulations. Ferrari, too, has often been hindered by rules that have been put in place to level the playing field for other competitors.
With such a rich racing history, it's also important to remember the Italian cars that raced, but never won a championship, like Osella and Minardi, who always showed commitment and hard work. Today Minardi is Toro Rosso, the minor team of World Champion Red Bull. Another successful story is that of Benetton, who won two world championships in its time, and Mr. Flavio Briatore, considered one of the best team managers, who has led Renault to some very prestigious victories.