100 years of the FIA

2004 marks 100 years of the FIA A brief history of the FIA and motoring & motor sport through the last century. The FIA was born out of racing. Out of the competition between men and machines when all cars were prototypes and roads were designed...

2004 marks 100 years of the FIA
A brief history of the FIA and motoring & motor sport through the last century.

The FIA was born out of racing. Out of the competition between men and machines when all cars were prototypes and roads were designed for the horse and cart. In the beginning racing was from city to city; Paris to Bordeaux, to Marseille and to Madrid. With the Gordon Bennett Trophy races, competition became international with teams racing in national colours. Motor sport was becoming faster and ever more popular with the public and the nascent car industry.

The 1903 Paris Madrid race attracted an estimated three million spectators and 300 entries. But with cars now capable of speeds above 160 km/h, disaster was inevitable. The race suffered six fatalities and many injuries among competitors and spectators alike. Governments threaten to ban the sport.

The Automobile Club de France, together with other early motoring clubs, quickly realised that common rules for fair competition and for safety must be agreed internationally. So in June 1904, 13 clubs, from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland and the USA, became the founders of the 'Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus'. This was the birth, and the original name of the FIA. The association elected the Belgian born aristocrat Baron Etienne de Zuylen to serve as its first President.

Over the next forty years, despite two world wars, motor sport thrived. The ACF organised the first Grand Prix at Le Mans (1906), Permanent race tracks were built at Brooklands, and Indianapolis (1907 & 1909). Monte Carlo staged its first rally (1911) and then its first Grand Prix (1929). Land Speed records were set by Seagrave, Campbell and Cobb (1920s-30s). European Grand Prix saw the rise of the all conquering Mercedes and Auto Union teams (1935-39). And all within the framework of common rules of the AIACR's International Sporting Code.

Just as racing needed rules so did the ordinary motorist. Once Henry Ford made the Model T and motoring became a possibility for millions, rules of the road became an urgent necessity. The FIA's founding clubs became pioneers in promoting standardised road signs, number plates, and registration documents. In Britain, for example, the RAC inspired the creation of the Highway Code. And clubs around Europe developed travel and customs documents to permit cross border travel by car. They also began to develop systems of roadside assistance to help with breakdowns.

In 1946 the ACF again played a key role hosting the first post-war General Assembly of the newly renamed FIA. Soon the FIA inaugurated the Formula One World Championship for Drivers, creating the ultimate test of individual achievement in motor sport. The new championship began in 1950 and the first round was held at Silverstone and attended by the British Monarch, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The first champion was the Italian Guiseppe Farina, driving an Alfa Romeo 158.

In the years since then the achievements of world champions like Fangio, Clark, Brabham, Prost, Senna and Schumacher, have established the FIA Formula One World Championship as the greatest prize in motor sport. A Constructors Championship was added in 1958 which has been won by Ferrari, a record 14 times.

World Championships have spread to other disciplines - the World Rally Championships for Drivers and Constructors, and the GT Championship. Today the FIA International Calendar contains over 850 motor sport events. There are 30 official FIA championships ranging from karts, to drag racing, cross country rallies, truck racing, hill climbs and historic cars.

The FIA has grown with the increased professionalism of sport and of television broadcasting, so that many of its championships can now be watched by motor sport enthusiasts around the world. Formula One continues to enjoy among the largest television audience for any sport in the world.

The FIA has also strengthened its role as the governing body for the sport; maintaining rules in all its disciplines to ensure fair play, impartial regulation, and the possibility of appeal to the Tribunal D'Appel Internationale. Above all the FIA strives for the maximum level of safety possible.

The FIA has always sought to learn from sometimes bitter experience how to minimise the risks of a sport that will always be dangerous. And it has always encouraged the transfer of the lessons in safety from the racetrack to the road.

For the ordinary motorist the FIA's member clubs have become leading providers of motoring services to the public. Clubs like the ADAC in Germany, the AAA in the USA, and JAF in Japan provide breakdown assistance, travel services, and consumer information to millions of members. The FIA, together with its member clubs, have the shared responsibility to defend the interest of the motorist. Independent of government or industry, they have supported major improvements in road safety and environmental standards, but they also strongly advocate freedom of mobility, and a fair deal for the motorist.

In a hundred years the FIA has been served by 10 Presidents, all have worked to strengthen the Federation's role, to increase its membership, and to adapt to the rapid changes that have occurred in the world of the automobile on both road and track. In 1904 a private aristocratic club of clubs began an international association. Today that association has become a federation of over 160 clubs from over 120 countries representing over 100 million people.

Much has changed in both the world of motor sport and motoring over the last 100 years. And yet the vision of the FIA's founders remains just as relevant today. An organisation that is independent and strong, ready to serve as the government of the sport, and the defender of the motoring public.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Henry Ford
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes