Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

Nothing compares to you - A closer look at Formula One searching on the world wide web

Published by Christine

The Google Books Ngram Viewer is an analytics and search tool that allows you to look through years of publications to see how popular a particular word or phrase has been. The viewer looks through five million books over 500 years, giving plenty of scope to ascertain trends based on the results. For example, searching for the words "radio" and "television" together produce an interesting insight into how audio and visual entertainment has changed.

When it comes to Formula 1, there are a few searches we can do to see how the view of the sport in published items has evolved.

Formula 1 versus Grand Prix (1850 - 2008)
Formula 1 versus Grand Prix (1850 - 2008)Credit: Google 2010

Pitting "Formula 1" against "Grand Prix" instantly shows that the less specific term has been used far more often (click image for more detail). Of course, Grand Prix is not just used in motorsport, and has plenty of history associated with it in other disciplines, but there's no mistaking that giant leap in the 1950s and 1960s, when the F1 championship made Grand Prix racing a household name.

Meanwhile, Formula 1 has a much lower, and much steadier pattern, with increase of use towards the more recent years.

Motorsport versus Motor sport (1910 - 2008)
Motorsport versus Motor sport (1910 - 2008)Credit: Google 2010

An age old discussion is whether motorsport should be written as one word or two, and the Ngram Viewer can help us decipher which has been the more popular option in the past. I can't explain the strange rise in popularity over the 1930s, but it seems as though motor sport was always considered two words until very, very recently.

As well as deciding which spelling is correct, or perhaps merely hinting one way or the other, the graph also shows that the use of either word is increasing exponentially. From the 1990s onwards, it seems motorsport was all anyone could talk about.

Chequered Flag (1950 - 2008)
Chequered Flag (1950 - 2008)Credit: Google 2010

Finally, the graphs don't always have to be compare and contrast, they can also just be used to seek out one particular phrase. Chequered Flag, with capital letters, seems to have only been in existence, in printed form, since the 1950s, when the race-ending flag itself has been in use for a lot longer than that.

I'm also curious by the bump in the road that is the 1980s, where use of the Chequered Flag was a lot more common. Were there more races that came close to the wire, or was it just a fashionable thing at the time?

There are plenty of other searches that can be done, and thankfully the Ngram Viewer will be kept on in Google Books. The tool first appeared in Google Labs, a feature which the company have today announced they'll be shutting down. Ngram will live on, and that means lots of F1 searching to be done.