Silverstone a former World War II air base
Known as one of the fastest circuits in the world, comfortably nestled beside the Northamptonshire villages of Silverstone and Whittlebury – roughly located in the centre of England. Silverstone village is listed in the Domesday Book and its race track is built around the runways of a World War II airfield. How many other Grand Prix circuits can claim such history?
A 5.891km track of flat out sections, tight corners, heavy braking and majestic curves. Wonderfully British names of ‘Abbey Corner’, ‘Farm’ and ‘Vale’. A left-right-left-right challenge of Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel. The Wellington Straight was added in 2010 to encourage overtaking.
Future was in doubt
It’s place on the Formula One calendar has been almost consistently put in doubt – more recently because of the desire to move the British Grand Prix to Donington Park. However, after this plan fell through because of funding issues, a new 17 year contract was agreed in 2010 – securing Silverstone’s place in Formula One for another 11 years.
The history of British Grand Prix
The first British Grand Prix was held in 1926 at Brooklands. It was built in 1907 near Weybridge in Surrey as a race track and aerodrome. By 1918 it was Britain’s largest aircraft manufacturing centre. It hosted its last race in 1939, when war once again enveloped Europe.
During the Second World War, Brooklands and the track at Donington Park were severely damaged and fell into disrepair. This post-war era saw most new circuits being built on disused Royal Airforce airfields and Silverstone was one of these. RAF Silverstone had opened in 1943, it was relatively new. The 3 runways – in the typical WWII triangle format – still lie within the outline of the current tracks.
Silverstone was first used for motorsport by a group of friends, who – seeing the opportunity of a disused airfield – set up an impromptu race. This became known as the Mutton Grand Prix when a sheep was killed after wandering onto the track into the path of an oncoming racing car.
In a more official move towards racing, the outer taxiway and interconnecting runways were taken on by the RAC in 1948. Employee and ex-farmer James Wilson Brown was given 2 months to turn the site into a race track for the first RAC International Grand Prix. 100,000 people are estimated to have seen Luigi Villoresi win this in his Maserati. The track was fast and challenging. The first races were along the tight hairpin bends and long straights of the original runway. Ropes and hay bales were positioned to protect the piggery and the crops in the centre of the circuit. Canvas barriers were also erected to stop drivers being distracted by cars coming the other way. In 1949 the shape was formed that remains the basis of the track today.
Start your engines for the first race
1950 saw the first ever Formula One race held here – won by Giuseppe Farina in an Alfa Romeo. For this race the perimeter track was used for the first time. King George VI was in attendance – the only time a reigning monarch has attended British motor sport event.
The grandstands arrive
In 1951 the RAC gave the lease to the British Racing Driver’s Club (BRDC) and huge modifications were made to give it more permanence. Spectators were given ‘grandstands’ to ensure a better view. A shorter circuit was built within the large circuit and the pit was moved from the farm straight to the straight between Woodcote and the Copse.
1954 saw Argentinian legend Juan Manuel Fangio struggle at Silverstone. The bodywork of his car impaired his view of the circuit and time and time again his Mercedes made contact with the oil drums around the edge of track – amazingly he still managed to come 4th. Fangio is thought by many to be one of the best racing drivers of all time, winning the World Championship of Drivers five times. A record that stood for 47 years until it was beaten by Michael Schumacher.
Alernate years for Silverstone
By 1955 Formula One began to alternate between Silverstone and Aintree. Aintree had been created in 1954 as the ‘Goodwood of the North’ and was held within the same venue, using the same grandstands, as the famous horse race. Even numbered years were held at Silverstone and odd numbers (and 1962) at Aintree. Well surfaced and relatively flat, the lap record at Aintree was for Jim Clark in 1962: 1.54.0. It was also the location for the famous 1955 race in which Stirling Moss won in a Mercedes.
Increasingly prestigious, the British Grand Prix was designated the European Grand Prix 5 times between 1950 and 1977 – when this title was an honorary designation given annually to only one Grand Prix race in Europe.
Aintree fell out of favour and was decommissioned in 1964. From then until 1986 the Grand Prix alternated between Silverstone and Brands Hatch. Brands Hatch had many cambered corners and elevation changes compared to the flats of Silverstone. However, with increasing appeals for safety regulations to be met by the addition of larger ‘run off’ areas – the land around Silverstone was better able to meet these demands.
By 1971 the BRDC had bought the entire 720 plot and more redevelopment ensued. New pits were built and a chicane was erected at Woodcote in order to tame speeds – allowing for close finishes and great overtaking opportunities. The Woodcote corner had previously been known for the ‘Super-Swede’ Ronnie Peterson’s Lotus reaching speeds of 150mph.
Let`s slow this down for safety reasons
Further attempts to slow increasing speeds were made in 1987 with another corner being built before Woodcote. Between 1990 and 1991 a major redesign took place; transforming it from an ultra-fast track to a more technical one. Also added was a new stadium area between Abbey and Woodcote. Again, in 1992, a new complex of corners was created between Farm and Woodcote.
Following the deaths of Senna and Ratzenberger at Imola in 1994, circuits were modified to increase driver safety by cutting down the speed. The Hangar straight into Stowe corner was modified in 1995 to make the entry less dangerous. Abbey kink was modified to a chicane and parts of the track were increased to a full 17 metres wide.
The modern era
Jim Clark and Alain Prost have claimed the most wins here – both winning 5 times. Nigel Mansell won 4 times. Ferrari has the most constructor wins with a total of 15. The fastest lap recorded at Silverstone was 1.29.607 by Lewis Hamilton in the 3rd Qualifying in 2013.
For the last two years Hamilton has won here at Silverstone. In 2014 Hamilton won after team-mate Nico Rosberg suffered a gearbox failure which ended his race. Last year Lewis Hamilton started the British Grand Prix with a 10 point advantage over Rosberg. This year the roles are reversed – with Rosberg leading by 11 points.
At this point in the season teenager Max Verstappen is back to form, after an uncertain period following his epic win at the Spanish Grand Prix. Last weekend in Austria Jenson Button achieved his best position (6th) so far this year. This season Hamilton and Rosberg have been embroiled in a monumental battle that has seen them collide 3 times out of the last 5 races. Mercedes are talking about sanctions. Hamilton maintains that if he sees a gap he will take it. Add to this the unpredictable British weather.