Silverstone – 50 years and still a vital part of the racing calendar

The start of Silverstone's first Grand Prix in October 1948 (Photograph James Beckett Collection) PNL-140107-122504001

The start of Silverstone's first Grand Prix in October 1948 (Photograph James Beckett Collection) PNL-140107-122504001

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Ahead of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit today, Sunday, motorsport correspondent James Beckett takes a look back at the history of this iconic race.

When the start lights flash out this afternoon to signal the start of the British Grand Prix, Silverstone will officially be listed in the record books as having hosted its 50th Grand Prix race.

The former World War II airfield of Silverstone hosted its first Grand Prix in October 1948. Pictured in this photograph are the Maserati 4CLT/48 cars driven by Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi. (Photograph James Beckett Collection) PNL-140107-122557001

The former World War II airfield of Silverstone hosted its first Grand Prix in October 1948. Pictured in this photograph are the Maserati 4CLT/48 cars driven by Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi. (Photograph James Beckett Collection) PNL-140107-122557001

Hosting its first race in 1948, Silverstone is now known as the ‘Home of British Motor Racing’, and the venue, owned by the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) has held an exclusive contract to host the British round of the FIA World Championship since 1988.

In the immediate post war years, a venue was sought by the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) for a Grand Prix to be held. With pre-war race tracks Brooklands and Donington Park both unavailable, a new track was needed to host a race and return international motorsport to Britain.

Silverstone was selected as the chosen venue and the former airfield’s runways and perimeter roads were turned into a race track. The course marked with hay bales and oil drums played host to a thrilling event in October 1948, with the Italian Maserati cars of Luigi Villoresi and Alberto Ascari sweeping to a 1-2 finish. Silverstone’s Grand Prix career was underway.

For 1950 the FIA, the world’s governing body of motorsport, introduced a World Championship, and Silverstone hosted the first round.

Silverstone hosted the very first round of the FIA F1 World Championship in May 1950. The occasion was marked by the visit of King George VI and a royal party to watch the race (Photograph James Beckett Collection) PNL-140107-122547001

Silverstone hosted the very first round of the FIA F1 World Championship in May 1950. The occasion was marked by the visit of King George VI and a royal party to watch the race (Photograph James Beckett Collection) PNL-140107-122547001

On May 13, with King George VI and his royal party watching at trackside, Silverstone’s position in folklore was cemented. Giuseppe Farina, driving an Alfa Romeo, won the race in a season he also became the world’s first F1 champion.

For 1955 a new agreement saw the race move away from Silverstone’s fast sweeping corners to Aintree – home of the Grand National.

Alternating the race with the Liverpool venue until 1963, Silverstone then shared the race with Brands Hatch. Silverstone’s flat and fast layout was in contrast to Brands Hatch’s undulating nature, with Silverstone staking a claim as the world’s fastest Grand Prix track. The drivers loved Silverstone’s daunting challenge and throughout the 1960s and 1970s the track played host several memorable Grands Prix.

With speeds ever increasing, a new chicane at Woodcote corner was added for the 1975 Grand Prix, the first circuit change since the track’s second Grand Prix in 1949, and as the world of F1 grew faster a further change to the track was made with the creation of Luffield corner for the 1987 season.

1977 British Grand Prix. Silverstone, England. 14-16 July 1977. James Hunt (McLaren M26 Ford) leads John Watson (Brabham BT45B Alfa Romeo), Jody Scheckter (Wolf WR1 Ford), Niki Lauda (Ferrari 312T2), Gunnar Nilsson and Mario Andretti (both Lotus 78 Ford's) down Hanger Straight at the start. Ref-77 GB 12. World Copyright - LAT Photographic  of the 1977 British Grand Prix. World Champion in 1976, Hunt arrived at Silverstone looking for a win as he wasn't enjoying the best of luck during while racing with number 1 on his car. The British star, cheered on by thousands of fans, raised his game in front of the home crowd, and did not disappoint! He raced to a memorable victory in the year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee in his McLaren M26-Cosworth, defeating his arch rival, Niki Lauda (Ferrari), by a margin of eighteen seconds. The Swedish racer, Gunnar Nilsson (Lotus) took third. (Photograph James Beckett Collection) PNL-140107-122514001

1977 British Grand Prix. Silverstone, England. 14-16 July 1977. James Hunt (McLaren M26 Ford) leads John Watson (Brabham BT45B Alfa Romeo), Jody Scheckter (Wolf WR1 Ford), Niki Lauda (Ferrari 312T2), Gunnar Nilsson and Mario Andretti (both Lotus 78 Ford's) down Hanger Straight at the start. Ref-77 GB 12. World Copyright - LAT Photographic of the 1977 British Grand Prix. World Champion in 1976, Hunt arrived at Silverstone looking for a win as he wasn't enjoying the best of luck during while racing with number 1 on his car. The British star, cheered on by thousands of fans, raised his game in front of the home crowd, and did not disappoint! He raced to a memorable victory in the year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee in his McLaren M26-Cosworth, defeating his arch rival, Niki Lauda (Ferrari), by a margin of eighteen seconds. The Swedish racer, Gunnar Nilsson (Lotus) took third. (Photograph James Beckett Collection) PNL-140107-122514001

Silverstone officials signed a deal to host the race for the 1988 season, and since then the British Grand Prix has been exclusively held at the track. The track’s power struggles dominated the headlines during the 1990s and into the early 2000s, and despite coming close to losing the race to Donington Park for 2009, Silverstone’s future looks strong.

New partnerships are in place to ensure the income streams are available to maintain the track as a leading force in international motor racing for years to come.

The building of a new Grand Prix Circuit layout for the 2010 season, and the construction of the multi-million pound Silverstone Wing pit and paddock complex, has further enhanced Silverstone’s ability to host the Grand Prix and other major events. With a Grand Prix contract in its back pocket until 2027, the future for Silverstone looks good.

Fifty Grands Prix not out.... Here is to the next 50!

 

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