Sporting Vernacular 37: Grand Prix

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MIKA HAKKINEN'S victory in Japan yesterday, which earned him the Formula 1 world title, was indeed a "great prize" or grand prix.

In 1906 the French held the first automotive Grand Prix at Le Mans (the winner was Ferenc Szisz, a Hungarian, in a Renault). In the next few years there were also "Grand Prize" races in the United States and Kaiserpreis events in Germany. The French terminology won out, helped by the setting- up in 1911 of a series of races for the Grand Prix of the Automobile Club de Paris.

The Grand Prix de Rome, a French award given to artists etc to study in Italy, had been around since the 17th century, but in a sporting context the phrase was originally used in horse racing. The Grand Prix de Paris, a race for three-year-olds at Longchamps - now a rather obscure affair - began in 1863 (and was won by an English horse, The Ranger).

"Prix" or "prize", in its sense of "reward", is essentially the same word as "price", or, originally, pris, the form in which it reached us from the French. It became "prise", dividing in the 16th century into "prize" and "price".