Formula One reaches 1000 Grands Prix: The 10 races that shaped the sport

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Tom Cary
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The 1989 Japanese Grand Prix was a memorable one - a title-deciding clash between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna the key moment - REX/Shutterstock
The 1989 Japanese Grand Prix was a memorable one - a title-deciding clash between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna the key moment - REX/Shutterstock

Formula One will celebrate its 1000th world championship grand prix in China on Sunday. Despite all the debate about what will be the "actual" 1000th F1 race, it is a remarkable achievement for the sport. 

Times have changed and will continue to change. The V6 turbo hybrid powered halo-clad beasts with their mega downforce are a world away from the cars of the mid-2000s, never mind the machines from even further back. 

But the draw and drama of F1 remains. And despite huge improvements in safety, so does the danger. 

Ahead of this milestone event, we take a look at some of the grands prix that have shaped F1 as we know it today. 

1958 Argentine Grand Prix

Sir Stirling Moss - for many the greatest driver never to win the F1 world title - triumphed in the opening round of the 1958 championship. But the significance of the win was that he was driving a mid-engined Cooper. It was the first F1 victory for a car with the engine mounted behind the driver and led to a rear-engined revolution.

Stirling Moss celebrates victory in the 1958 Argentine Grand Prix - Credit: Hulton Archive
Stirling Moss celebrates victory in the 1958 Argentine Grand Prix Credit: Hulton Archive

Moss’s victory was also the first for a privateer team in F1 (Moss was racing for the team founded by Johnnie Walker heir Rob Walker), and the first by a chassis built by the Cooper Car Company, which would go on to achieve huge success in motorsport. Moss finished runner-up in the F1 championship four times, famously losing the 1958 season by a solitary point largely due to his own sense of fair play, defending fellow Brit Mike Hawthorn before a race jury in Portugal.

1967 Dutch Grand Prix

Scottish great Jim Clark, driving for Colin Chapman’s famous Lotus team, raced with the legendary Ford Cosworth DFV engine for the first time and immediately swept to victory at Zandvoort. The DFV would go on to become the greatest racing engine of all time, winning 155 GPs between 1967 and 1983 as well as the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Derivations of it also dominated Indycar racing. Clark, who was in his prime by this point, would die the following season aged just 32 following an accident in an F2 race at the Hockenheimring. The Scot remains for many the greatest F1 driver of all time, having won the championship twice as well as the Indy 500.

1968 Monaco Grand Prix

Graham Hill's Lotus leading John Surtees' Honda, Monaco Grand Prix, 1968. Hill went on to win the race to help him on the way to his second World Drivers' Championship, while Surtees pulled out after 16 laps with gearbox failur - Credit: Hulton Archive
Graham Hill leads the field in the 1968 Monaco Grand Prix. He would win the famous race five times in total Credit: Hulton Archive

These were the Killer Years in F1 when mechanical failure, lethal track design, fire and incompetence led to the death of many young drivers. If you competed continuously over a five year period, it was estimated that you stood a two-in-three chance of dying. But these years also forged legends, with teams and drivers continuing to push to the limit.

One month after Clark’s death at Hockenheim, his team mate Graham Hill won in Monaco debuting the Lotus 49B which had front aerofoils and a wedge-shaped rear body section. By the following race at Spa, Ferrari and Brabham had added wings to their cars. The age of the aerodynamicist had arrived.

1976 German Grand Prix

Niki Lauda's accident at Nurburgring...Picture of the burning Ferrari of Austrian Formula 1 world champion Niki Lauda after an accident on the 1st of August in 1976 at Nurburgring. Lauda escaped death in the last second, he was pulled out of the burning wreck by his Formula 1 rivals. No third party sale - Credit: ATP
Niki Lauda's near-fatal accident at the Nurburgring was horrific Credit: ATP

By 1976 there had been improvements in safety, with Sir Jackie Stewart leading the way in calling for mandatory seat belt usage and full-face helmets for drivers. Stewart organised driver boycotts of circuits until barriers, run-off areas, fire crews, and medical facilities were improved. But danger remained ever-present.

A decade after Stewart's biggest crash, at Spa-Francorchamps in 1966, Niki Lauda had a terrible accident at the Nurburgring. Lauda had himself been trying to organise a boycott in protest at the circuit’s safety arrangements but was outvoted. His Ferrari caught fire after a crash on lap two and the Austrian was trapped in the wreckage. Although he returned, he ended up losing that year’s title by a point to Briton James Hunt after retiring from a rain-soaked Japanese GP due to unsafe conditions.

1979 French Grand Prix

Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Gilles Villeneuve, Grand Prix of France, Dijon-Prenois, 01 July 1979. Arnoux and Villeneuve after their epic battle, while Jabouille's victory was the first of the turbo era - Credit: Hulton Archive
Jean-Pierre Jabouille may have won the 1970 French GP but it was the battle behind him that was more fascinating Credit: Hulton Archive

Frequently cited as one of the all-time great F1 races, the grand prix at Dijon marked the first turbo-powered victory in F1 history for Jean-Pierre Jabouille. It was a first French victory on home soil since 1948 and it was achieved in a French car (Renault), on French tyres (Michelin), powered by a French engine (Renault), burning French fuel (Elf).

But no one remembers any of that because the battle for second - between Ferrari’s Gilles Villeneuve and Renault’s Rene Arnoux - was so mesmeric. Villenueve, whose car was not turbocharged, managed to battle and eventually pass his rival on balding tyres at the final hairpin, with the two men embracing afterwards.

1989 Japanese Grand Prix

The greatest rivalry in F1 history flared, infamously, on two occasions 12 months apart. The championship decider in 1989 saw McLaren team mates Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost tangle at the chicane, with Senna eventually restarting and winning the race only to be controversially disqualified handing the title to Prost.  The Brazilian was incensed, calling it a political stitch-up. A year later, he punted Prost off at the first corner at Suzuka at 150mph in one of the most controversial shunts of all time, clinching the title in the process.

1991 Belgian Grand Prix

Jordan-Ford driver Michael Schumacher of Germany makes his F1 debut during the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix held in Spa, Belgium - Credit: Getty Images
Michael Schumacher makes his F1 debut in a Jordan in Belgium Credit: Getty Images

Michael Schumacher’s first start in F1 arrived in bizarre circumstances after Jordan’s Belgian driver Bertrand Gachot was sentenced to six months in jail for spraying CS gas at the face of a London taxi driver. Jordan was suddenly in need of a second driver and Mercedes popped up with a chunk of cash and one of their young sports car aces.

Schumacher had never driven the Ardennes circuit before but qualified seventh, four places and seven tenths ahead of team-mate Andrea de Cesaris. Unfortunately his clutch failed in the race but Schumacher had announced himself.

1994 San Marino Grand Prix

In this May 01, 1994, file photo, Italy's Nicola Larini, left, holds his head and Germany's Michael Schumacher, right, wipes a tear from his eyes while talking with Benetton director-general Flavio Briatore, center, on the podium following the San Marino Formula One Grand Prix crash in Imola, Italy. The drivers were reacting to the news that the Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna was in critical condition at a Bologna hospital after a crash in the race. Later it was announced that Senna had died after suffering severe head injuries. Schumacher won the race and Larini finished second - Credit: AP
Nicola Larini and Michael Schumacher on the podium following Ayrton Senna's fatal accident at Imola in 1994 Credit: AP

Arguably the darkest day in F1 history. There had of course been many deaths before 1994, but the loss of Roland Ratzenberger and then the legendary Ayrton Senna in the space of a couple of days at Imola in 1994 hit the sport hard.

They were the first in 12 years and, with the growth of the sport in the 1980s and early 1990s, were witnessed live by a global audience. There was a huge backlash, with FIA president Max Mosely and race doctor Sid Watkins driving another step change in safety standards.

2008 Brazilian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes drives during the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at the Interlagos Circuit on November 2, 2008 in Sao Paulo, Brazil - Credit: Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton passes Timo Glock to take the fifth place he needed to secure his maiden world title Credit: Getty Images

The arrival of Lewis Hamilton in 2007 was another huge moment for the sport. F1’s first black driver, who grew up on a council estate in Stevenage, was a thoroughly modern sporting phenomenon, opening the sport up to a new audience. His driving, meanwhile, was on another level.

He could and perhaps should have won the title in his first season at McLaren despite partnering two-time world champion Fernando Alonso. He got the job done the following year, though only after one of the most dramatic finishes in F1 history, passing Toyota’s Timo Glock on the final lap at Interlagos for the fifth place he needed.

2014 Japanese Grand Prix

Thankfully deaths in Formula One are no longer a common occurrence but the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix was a reminder of how dangerous the sport can be. Frenchman Jules Bianchi lost control of his Marussia on lap 43, colliding with a tractor crane that was tending to Adrian Sutil's Sauber, which had spun off on the previous lap.

He died the following summer as a result of the head injuries he sustained, becoming F1’s first death since Senna. Although it would not have saved him, the Halo device has since been adopted as F1 continues to try to address safety concerns.