The late-1940s was an incredible boom time for motorsport. The second World War had finally drawn to a close and motorsport – for years stifled in numerous territories due to conflict and / or strained resources – began to breathe once again.
Formula A regulations were drawn up in 1946 for 1.5 litre supercharged cars and 4.5 litre unsupercharged machines, with the category renamed to Formula One for the 1947 season. While these regulatory changes played into the hands of manufacturers that had cars available to slot into this formula, it did much to give a direction and purpose for the years ahead.
In theory, the 1946 Turin Grand Prix was the first to run to “Formula One” regulations, but as the technical rulebook had not yet been ratified at this stage, the Turin Grand Prix is technically listed as a Formula Libre event, albeit one where 200,000 people reportedly attended.
The following February, four Formula One cars showed up for the Swedish Winter Grand Prix, but this event – run on ice for 20 laps – is often discounted as being a Formula One event, due to it being closer to ice-bound rallycross event than a road race.
And thus, April’s Pau Grand Prix has the label of “first Formula One race” thrust upon it, although that fact seemed to bring little fanfare with it.
Held over 110 laps, Nello Pagani was victorious in his Maserati, over the Delage driven by Pierre Levegh, with Pagani winning by two laps over his French rival. In a long and varied career, Pagani would go on to be the inaugural Motorcycle 125cc World Champion two years later.
In the coming years, the number of Grand Prix increased, while the various Grandes Épreuves – held in Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, France, Britain and Monaco – dominated interest from drivers, teams and fans alike, before the World Driver’s Championship made a somewhat inauspicious start at Silverstone in 1950.
It would be some time before the new Formula One machinery would find its way around the globe, with many Grand Prix still running to the Formula Libre concept for several years after Formula One had been drawn up.
Most of these Formula Libre events were made up a mixture of pre-war cars, that had been dusted off, repaired, repainted and carted around to races. These were still incredibly popular events, as showcased by the 1949 Australian Grand Prix, held at Leyburn Airfield in Queensland.
The track layout was less than exciting and comprised of three runway strips linked at its ends to loosely form a triangle. With only four corners, the circuit proved less than challenging for drivers; however, the incredibly long straights did force competitors to grit their teeth as their ageing machines peaked and strained under the forces.
That race was won by John Crouch behind the wheel of a Jean François-designed Delahaye 135MS, in what was the sole major victory of his career. Crouch won by just under five minutes from Ray ‘Laddie’ Gordon (MG), with Arthur Rizzo a further two-and-a-half minutes behind in his Riley Special.
On the other side of the coin, Les Johnson had entered the race at Leyburn, only for his following trailer to suffer issues on the way to the circuit. As a result, Johnson missed the race completely, showing up after the chequered flag, and while he arrived without a racing car, he did unload his road going machine, which had been crammed full of alcohol.
With the support races continuing on into the afternoon, Johnson proceeded to get very drunk and watched the events unfold from the sidelines.