One hundred years before Christ, the Germanic tribes of the Cimbri slid down the snow-capped Alps by using their shields as sleds to attack the Roman army. We can’t say for certain that they broke any records, but for sure this was a very brisk way of shortening distances and saving energy. Today, the world speed skiing record is held by the Italian Ivan Origone at 254.958 kilometres per hour.
Everything has changed yet nothing has really changed: these records should not be judged by the speed achieved but by the time in which a certain distance is covered. Ettore Bugatti’s train, which travelled at 196 km/h in 1935 thanks to the powerful internal combustion engines designed for the Royale, was met with wonderment because it connected Paris to Lyon in just 4 hours and 50 minutes. The same goes for modern fast trains where the Japanese have long prevailed with their perfect and punctual Shinkansen. Today, fast trains are not taken for the speed they travel at but because on an increasing number of routes, they guarantee the journey will take the same time as travelling by plane and in greater comfort.
The story that we want to tell, with the precious support of Massimo Grandi’s illustrations and with the guidance of an interesting book published by ASI – the Italian Historical Automobile Club – entitled “La più veloce” (The fastest), is man’s desire to set records that shorten distances. Why is man driven towards travelling faster and faster? Because ever since he learned to walk, man’s biggest obstacle has always been distance. On foot, using animals and on water, using the wind, man has accomplished extraordinary feats held back only by the excessive distances he was required to travel.
The industrial revolution changed everything and wars, unfortunately, helped stimulate research with no rules or limitations. Nowadays, fortunately, humanity has realized that the pursuit of speed must also be compatible with the environment. It will be interesting to see how Formula 1, in 2025, will change its regulations to use biofuels and hydrogen (these appear to be the paths that will be chosen). It is therefore interesting to see how man, driven by different motivations, has travelled down the road of speed. We will do this by analysing the times and also the moments. A wonderful cultural exercise as we to look towards a better tomorrow.