The Failed 1961 British Breakaway From Formula One

A Ferrari 156

A Ferrari 156
Photo: Nic Redhead/Wikimedia Commons

Since the inception of the world championship, a large part of Formula One’s intrigue has revolved around paddock rumors, gossip, and speculation. While some bold claims may come to fruition, many don’t and are forgotten by fans over time. There are also rumors that recur so often that they have become clichéd, like Ferrari threatening to quit Formula One. My favorite clichéd rumor has been dormant for a decade now is the prospect of a breakaway grand prix championship.


Though, once the rumor turned out to be fact. In the June 1960 issue of Road & Track, a lengthy feature information article about the most-prestigious Formula One and sports car circuits of Europe concluded with a seemingly out-of-place column titled “Final Year of Formula One?” The column written by Jerry Ames

Ames believed that dissatisfaction with Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the sport’s international governing body and the regulations for the 1961 F1 season would lead to a necessary revolution. The crisis point was the downsizing of engine displacement from 2.5 liters to 1.5 liters. Ames also speculated that if Britain went its own way, Italy and the United States would follow.

Ames railed against the FIA for allowing countries who don’t even participate in Formula One to have a say in the sport’s future and thrust an unwanted ruleset onto the championship. He wrote that France was living in the past by leading a sport that the country created despite not having a team in Formula One anymore. Ames all but stated that he wanted Britain to run F1.

The Royal Automobile Club of Britain gave the FIA an ultimatum to extend the existing 2.5-liter engine regulations for three years or else. The FIA chose “or else.” The British teams with the support of the sport’s largest sponsors (BP, Shell and Esso) led the creation of a new set of 3.0 liter regulations called the Intercontinental Formula. It was widely believed that Ferrari would follow the British teams into this alternative formula

G/O Media may get a commission

Black Friday Deals 2021: What To Expect and What’s on Sale Now
Black Friday Deals 2021: What To Expect and What’s on Sale Now

Show the suppy chain who’s boss

Get a headstart on your holiday shopping at Amazon, Target, Best Buy, and more.

The 1961 season would see Phil Hill become the first American to win the Formula One World Drivers’ Championship while driving a Ferrari 156 powered by a 1.5-liter V6. The breakaway was far from successful. It was an absolute disaster. None of the four major British teams (BRM, Cooper, Lotus, Rob Walker Racing) withdrew from F1.

The preseason non-championship Intercontinental races saw small fields that were almost exclusively British. All of the British teams continued to race in Formula One alongside the handful of remaining Intercontinental races in Britain. Ferrari never produced a car for the category and the calendar for the fledgling series collapsed before it even began. The Intercontinental Formula would vanish as quickly as it appeared.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Most Popular

To Top