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From RAF bomber base to racetrack – The history of Silverstone

We take a look at what makes this iconic racing track so special

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Silverstone is known as the home of the British Grand Prix, Moto Gp, and many other racing series. The iconic circuit also has a rich history behind it, one full of pride and glory. In this special feature we dive into the history of this circuit, and the iconic moments it has brought us. 

Silverstone circuit started life as a WW2 RAF bomber station. RAF Silverstone opened in 1943 and was made up of three runways. When the airfield closed Silverstone lay abandoned for a period of time, before being noticed by a local named Maurice Geoghegan, who lived in the nearby Silverstone village. He, and a group of friends, created the first ever race track at Silverstone. During the race around a 2 mile circuit Maurice’s car hit a sheep, killing the animal and writing the car off. This informal race became known as the ‘Mutton Grand Prix’ as a result of the days events.

On 2nd October 1948 the Royal Automobile Club hosted the first ever British Grand Prix, an event which saw over 100,000 fans attend, kept safe by a few straw bales and canvas barriers.

King George VI attended the 1950 race, and in 1951 the BRDC took over the lease of Silverstone from the RAC. They made it their task to change the airfield track into a more permanent fixture. This work was successful and paved the way for the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio to take the racing world by storm throughout the 1950’s.

The events of the 1960 race show parallel to the Canadian GP of 2011. Graham Hill went from last place, to first place, to last place as he spun out 5 laps from the end at Copse corner. Allowing Jack Brabham to gain victory in the first race of the new decade.

1969 saw an epic race at Silverstone, as Rindt and Stewart battled for the lead throughout the entire race. A battle which Stewart won, as Silverstone looked ahead to its 3rd full decade as a race track…

Jackie Stewart at the 1971 British Grand Prix

The 1970’s saw the likes of James Hunt and Niki Lauda emerge as legends. But 1971 saw Jackie Stewart dominate the race as he was on his way to win his second world title. Perhaps the most famous race of the 1970’s occurred in 1976, as James Hunt drove his McLaren to victory, to the delight of the British crowd who were watching on in their thousands.

The 1980’s are remembered for the Senna/Prost rivalry in the F1 world, and events at Silverstone match this narrative. 1983 saw Prost take his first of five Silverstone victories. 1987 saw chaos for the British fans as Nigel Mansell ran out of fuel on the slow down lap and was mobbed by adoring fans who broke safety protocol and rushed onto the circuit!

‘Senna conquers all’ reads the headline on the Silverstone website surrounding the events of the 1988 race. A dominant win in the wet for the Brazilian driver is remembered as one of his best, as Nigel Mansell once again ignited the British spirit by finishing 2nd.

The 1990’s saw Damon Hill go one better than his father as he achieved a home GP win in 1994. Michael Schumacher had rather contrasting races in 1998 and 1999, as ’98 saw him win the race and ’99 saw him break his leg in an accident when his breaks failed at Stowe corner.

Damon Hill en-route to winning the 1994 Grand Prix

At the turn of the century David Coulthard won his home GP ahead of teammate Mika Hakkinen. Although not F1, the 2006 Gp2 race was one of the best of Lewis Hamilton’s career to date, as he started 8th and made some stellar moves to stand on the top step! He backed up this remarkable GP2 performance with a F1 win in 2008, the year he would go on to take his first championship.

“Not bad for a number 2” was the radio message Mark Webber famously gave to Red Bull after his win at the 2010 race, later becoming known as one of the most famous radio messages of all time. Nico Rosberg won a chaotic 2013 Grand Prix ahead of Vettel, but Seb went on to win his 4th consecutive title that year nonetheless.

And of course who can forget 2020. The year a pandemic swept the earth and brought F1 to a standstill from January to July. Silverstone hosted 2 races that season, the first being famous for LH somehow managing to win on three wheels, the second being Max Verstappen’s only win of the season.

Silverstone is back this week and will be hoping to provide more classic moments for its spectators. 140,000 fans will be allowed in, and I for one am hoping that the event will be the best yet.

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