The purpose of this paper is to document, explain and clarify the process by which the 1938-40 Formule Internationale came into being. While previous writers have covered this subject briefly within more general works on motor racing history, my initial and subsequent researches indicated that by relying on only a small number of (usually) English-language sources they had failed to adequately explain its creation and had – in some cases – omitted, ignored or simply not uncovered vital elements and events, which in turn led to their work being incomplete or even incorrect.

The format of this formula, employing a sliding scale based on a relationship between weight and engine capacity, is often viewed in isolation as an innovative concept, whereas my researches have shown that its creation was a long process, with several ‘false starts’ stretching over almost a decade; these are traced within this paper, along with a brief critique of its flaws and inadequacies.

Through examining original sources, in several languages and from both sides of the Atlantic, I have formulated a different narrative, which sheds new light on the accepted histories of both European Grand Prix and American open-wheel motor racing in the 1930s and shows that this 1938 formula was simultaneously a missed opportunity and also a much more important part of the development of the sport than is generally suggested or acknowledged.

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