By Stefan Kristensen
March 18, 2023

Why Are F1 Races Called Grand Prix?

Formula One Grand Prix races – the quintessence of speed, competitiveness, entertainment, and, of course, craftmanship. Just hearing the name of the event can make the hearts of racing fans start beating faster. 

And though a lot of people are used to the term ‘Grand Prix’, not many of them know where the magical words originated from. Hint: that happened long before the establishment of Formula One!  

Want to find out why are F1 races called grand prix? Then keep on reading. 

Why Are F1 Races Called Grand Prix?

The words ‘Grand Prix’ are the perfect embodiment of the competitive spirit of Formula 1 as the name literally means ‘great prize’ in French

In 1906, for example, the winner of the first race was awarded 45,000 French francs which were equivalent to the cost of nearly 29 pounds of gold! But this wasn’t a Formula 1 race. The first F1 Grand Prix took place only 44 years later, in 1950.

The term ‘Grand Prix’ has been used throughout history to describe many sportive events. When it comes to automobile racing, at one point, the ‘Grand Prix’ would be used to describe the most important automobile race in the country (which would have the biggest prize). But nowadays the term is used to describe any race that applies to the World Championship of Drivers (as well as plenty of other events). 

By the way, even though the racers, in theory, have to be competing for the ‘grand prize’, in reality, Formula One drivers get only a part of the prize pot that is generated by the FIA. The size of the pot depends on how much profit F1 managed to make throughout the course of the season. 

The way this works is that the teams would receive a payout based on their place in the Constructors Championship. The prize pot is made up of 50% of the total yearly profit generated. The biggest share will be given to the team that wins the championship, the second place will receive less, and so on. 

Teams also receive a base fee simply for participating in the sport. Furthermore, the drivers are paid a salary (by their team, not Formula One) and might receive bonuses for winning races, but that will fully depend on the contract that the drivers have with their team. 

So, in a nutshell, even though drivers, teams, stakeholders, and everyone else who is part of the Formula One Grands Prix races get paid extremely well, there is no longer a single truck of gold waiting for the only winner at the end of the race.

When Did the First Grand Prix Take Place?

The truth is that grand prix races took place long before Formula 1 was established. In fact, F1 originated from the European Grand Prix Championships of the 1920s and the 1930s.

However, it was in 1906, when an automobile race received the name Grand Prix for the very first time. That was when the Grand Prix of the Automobile Club of France took place. The magical words stuck, and have been used to describe some of the most prominent sports events in the country.

Even today, you’ll hear the term being referred to not only automobile races, but several other sports. For the first time, a non-automobile-related championship called ‘Grand Prix’ was held way back in 1863 when the French Grand Prix horse race happened. 

But what about the Formula 1 Grand Prix?

Formula One was defined back in 1946. This happened when the Commission Sportive Internationale of the FIA standardized the rules that the participants had to adhere to. By the way, ‘formula’ quite literally means a set of regulations.

The first races under the new regulations took place in 1946 in Turin and in 1947 in Sweden. But as Formula One became effective only in 1947, the Turin race cannot be considered the ‘first Formula 1 race’. The Swedish Grand Prix was held on ice and therefore experts don't call it a ‘proper race’.

The first official Formula 1 Grand Prix race was held in England in 1950. It was organized by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) which determined that the seven races that took place throughout Europe that year would have points that counted towards the drivers’ championship. 

What Qualifies as a Grand Prix?

Every race in the Formula 1 World Championships is referred to as the ‘Grand Prix’. The world championship season is held, generally, throughout the course of the year. The races that take place during the season are referred to as the ‘Grands Prix’ (the plural form of the term). 

A points system is used to determine the two World Champions in the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships. During the season, all points won at every single race are added up.

The number of Grands Prix held throughout the year can vary. In 1950, for example, there were only 7 races. And during the 2014 season, 19 races were held all around the globe.

Though, there are plenty of other sports events that carry the name ‘Grand Prix’, the first thing that will appear once you Google the term is the F1 Grand Prix.

By the way, the names ‘Formula One’, ‘Formula 1’, and ‘Formula 1 Grand Prix’ are trademarked, as well as Grand Prix maps and the actual term ‘Grand Prix’. 

However, the words can certainly be used by anyone, except within the motor racing industry. So, if you ever decide to call a pie-eating contest ‘the Grand Prix’ no one is going to sue you. 


Why are F1 races called grand prix? Now you know.

The name has over a century-old history that is filled with tears of joy and sadness, and, of course, with prestige and huge prizes that could (and did!) change the lives of thousands of people forever. 

And though nowadays the World Champions compete for a share of the prize pot (not an actual, set award), the racing competition has not become less entertaining because of that. 

Written by Stefan Kristensen
I have been passionate about motorsports ever since I was a little boy. Back then, I cheered on the racing cars simply based on their colors. Later I fell in love with the many technical features, strategic plays, humans and their stories that all together drives this amazing sport to make it as interesting as it is.
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