The development of the first motorcars during the 1890s and 1900s quickly led to the first motor races. Speeds were extremely low in the early days: one contest in 1894 was won by a vehicle that went at an average speed of only 12 miles per hour.
The first ‘proper’ Grand Prix on closed public roads was held by the Automobile Club de France (ACF) in June 1906, near the town of Le Mans. The idea quickly spread around Europe, and in 1922 the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR) began running a pan-Europe contest.
By the 1930s there were regular European Championships, until racing was stopped on the outbreak of World War II. After the war, the AIACR, by then renamed the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), organised the first World Championship in 1950.
During the 1960s and early 1970s the sport steadily gained popularity, although the money involved remained small by modern standards. It was the growth of global television audiences that transformed the economics of the sport, and this started a financial battle between the FIA and the teams in the late 1970s.
Bernie Ecclestone, who owned the Brabham team, negotiated the 1981 Concorde agreement that divided the revenue between the FIA and the coalition of teams and constructors. In 1987 he set up his own company, Formula One Promotions and Administration, which received the right to negotiate television contracts for Formula One and retain a share of the resulting revenue, in return for putting up the prize money. This proved to be an incredibly lucrative deal for Ecclestone, whose fortune is now estimated to be $3.8bn.