WORLD NEWS TOMORROW – Other races in the Formula One series may feel more steeped in Grand Prix racing history — the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, for example, or the Monaco Grand Prix, or even the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring old and new — but no other race on the calendar is as symbolic of the story of the modern incarnation of Grand Prix racing as the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
“It’s quite simply the home of motorsport,” said Michael Schumacher, the multiple-world-champion driver at the Mercedes team.
Indeed, Silverstone was the site of the first Formula One Grand Prix championship race in May 1950, won by Giuseppe Farina in an Alfa Romeo, and it has held all but 17 of the British Grand Prix races since then. Aintree and Brands Hatch occasionally held the race until 1987, but Silverstone has since been the permanent home of the British Grand Prix.
More than that, though, the race is the home race for the largest number of Formula One teams, as most of the industry of the series — the team factories and home bases — is in England, within an hour or so drive of Silverstone.
“We always try to put our best foot forward at Silverstone,” said Vijay Mallya, owner of the Force India team. “It’s where our factory is based and it’s our second home race of the season. It’s also one of the most atmospheric events on the calendar thanks to the passion of the British fans, who always show tremendous support. For our team, it’s definitely a highlight of the season.”
Although Formula One has expanded around the world, with more races run outside Europe than ever before, it remains primarily a British industry. The British Grand Prix at Silverstone has survived through many battles in recent years, pitting the owners of the circuit — the British Racing Drivers’ Club — against Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One promoter.
The battle usually has to do with fees charged for staging the race, although for many years it also had to do with Ecclestone’s request that the circuit invest in its facilities so that they would match the level of elegance and practicality of the lavish new circuits that have been constructed around the world, in countries that often have no auto-racing culture or tradition.
Major efforts have been made, and since last year Silverstone has had a new pit building and paddock on a par with — or better than — many of the new sites.
The Silverstone circuit was built on a plateau that had been the site of a World War II Royal Air Force bomber station. Despite several developments over the years, it still has much of its original high-speed layout.
At the track in 1985, Keke Rosberg set Formula One’s first 160-miles-per-hour, or 256-kilometers-per-hour, qualifying lap, in a Williams. Despite changes to the layout made in 2010, the middle section of the track remains one of the fastest in the world.
“Even after the track was amended, it didn’t lose its magic; for me as a driver, it is one of the best and interesting tracks of all,” said Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, the defending world champion driver. “The track is demanding for a driver and provides everything a driver likes, including the unpredictable weather that is possible in July in Silverstone.”
The British Grand Prix has indeed produced some of Formula One’s most historic and memorable races.
Home drivers have often figured in the most exciting races. In 1977, James Hunt, who was the reigning world champion and driving for McLaren, started on pole, but dropped to fourth. He then passed two drivers, retook the lead after another car dropped out and won the race.
In 1985, the race was the scene of one of the early battles between two of the biggest rivals in racing history, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. Senna was racing in a Lotus and Prost was in a McLaren. Prost passed Senna for the lead and the victory, seven laps from the end of the race.
In 1988, Senna was third and Prost fourth at the start. In strong rain, Senna took the victory, again proving his prowess on a wet track.
David Coulthard, a Scottish driver at McLaren, won the race in 1999 and also in 2000, when he did so after an exceptional passing move on Rubens Barrichello in a Ferrari.
But one of the most popular victories in recent years was that of Lewis Hamilton, in 2008, the year when the bright young British star went on to win the world championship.
“By far the best victory I’ve ever had,” Hamilton called it, after he started the wet race in fourth position, before passing his teammate at McLaren, Heikki Kovalainen, for the lead on Lap 5.
The track has never been good to Hamilton’s current teammate and compatriot at McLaren, Jenson Button. The world champion in 2009 at the Brawn team, Button has never finished higher than fourth at Silverstone, in 12 years running at the race. But he nonetheless maintains his love of his home event.
“It’s part of the fabric of F1, and still one of the world’s greatest motor-racing circuits,” Button said. “This has been an incredibly unpredictable season, but at least it’s a little easier to predict that Silverstone will once again be packed and that all the British drivers are going to get a lift from the energy the fans bring.
“I always enjoy racing at home because the atmosphere is unbeatable,” he added.