Motor racing came into being very soon after the invention of the car. The first races took place on public roads in France, but this soon became too dangerous. By 1908, racing cars were powered by engines of up to 20 litres, capable of 90mph/144.84kph.
Napier was the first British constructor to build cars especially for motor racing. The company competed in the Gordon Bennett Races, and one of their 1903 entries can be seen in the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu.
The first Grand Prix was held in 1906 on a circuit near Le Mans in France. During the mid 1920s, power output from competing cars doubled and speeds of 130mph/209.21kph were possible. Great teams of the time were Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Sunbeam, Delage and Bugatti. By the 1930s, Mercedes and Auto Unions from Germany, capable of 200mph/321.87kph, were dominating the sport.
Racing car design was revolutionised in the 1950s and 1960s through successful British teams like Cooper and Lotus. The World Championship began in 1950, and since then drivers have become the focus of public attention. British legends include Jackie Stewart, Stirling Moss and Graham Hill. The National Motor Museum’s Lotus 49 was driven by Graham Hill during the 1967 season. This model introduced the legendary Ford-Cosworth DFV (Double Four Valve) engine to Formula One racing.
Grand Prix racing is now an incredibly expensive sport, and changes in regulations present challenges to the car designers. More recent racing is represented at the National Motor Museum by cars such as Damon Hill’s 1996 Williams-Renault FW-18 and the McLaren MP4/13 – Mercedes of 1998.
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