British Grand Prix: Heart of UK F1 Motor Racing in Silverstone
History, tradition & spectacle make Silverstone Circuit F1 favorite
Consummate Formula 1 fans know that every Grand Prix circuit has something special, unique to each track, about it. Each track has a soul of its own – corners with names like Eau Rogue (red water) at Spa-Francorchamps, the Grand Hotel Hairpin at Monaco, and backdrops that make Hollywood set designers drool with envy.
That said, there is only one among these legacy venues that carries the exclusive honor of being the first circuit to host the official F1 World Championship British Grand Prix: Silverstone, located in the pastoral countryside of the UK’s Northamptonshire region, is indelibly linked to not only F1’s dynamic and vibrant history, but also high performance motoring generally, in ways that would define the future of the sport as we know it today.
The legendary track started taking shape-and-form at the Royal Air Force (RAF) bomber station during World War II. In 1948, shortly after the war ended, the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) hosted a Grand Prix at the airfield, during a time when Grand Prix’s weren’t codified into centralized formal structures utilized today. Essentially, person, club and/or organization that wanted to hold a big motor race and call it a Grand Prix (literally meaning Grand Prize in French) were free to do so, as the Silverstone Circuit did, leasing an airfield near the village of Silverstone from the British Air Ministry, transforming the field into a racetrack in just under two months.
The first FIA World Championship race at Silverstone hosted under the Formula 1 rules was the only time a reigning British monarch attended a motor race in the U.K., drawing a crowd of 100,000 spectators. As if that wasn’t enough, the trophy handed to the winner at the end of each race featured the mysterious inscription “Floreat Etona” (Latin for ‘Let Eton Flourish’); a reference to the renowned, all-male Eton College which was over 500 years old at the time.
It is frequently posited that, although no one really knows for sure, the first trophy for the British Grand Prix was donated by Sir Charles Rolls. Yes, that Rolls, as in the Rolls of Rolls-Royce who was a graduate of Eton College. As the story goes, the trophy for a major Grand Prix was just an extra mantelpiece casually donated by one of the founders of Rolls-Royce – perhaps necessity truly is the mother of invention.
The winner of the first F1 British Grand Prix was again an Italian team, Alfa Romeo, but the British found their pace on their home field when Australian Jack Brabham won the 1960 British Grand Prix at Silverstone driving the Cooper T53 car. Coincidentally, Brabham also drove the very first rear-engine car – the amazing Cooper T43 – at Monaco, which in turn was the T53’s granddad. Cooper would later become McLaren.
Silverstone eventually became one of the premiere tracks in the F1 season. The 1960s and 1970s saw changes to the track to increase safety regulations and introduce some of the best turns in F1 history, including the Round and a chicane to slow cars coming around the Woodcote, following the tragic crash of the 1971 Grand Prix.
Clearly since F1’s historic origins in Silverstone, F1 has cemented its global dominance in motorsport; from British-born Nigel Mansell’s big win in 1992 when he overcame a 29-point deficit to take the trophy, to James Hunt’s controversial disqualification in 1976 and Lewis Hamilton’s big win in 2008, Silverstone's unique historic legacy in motorsport is preserved at the circuit, where the track has, for the most part, retained its original shape and turns until 2010 when it was expanded as the 3.66-mile kink-laden monster it is today.
Silverstone may not be as recognized as Monaco or Melbourne (and Vegas in 2023), but for those who love motorsports, the Silverstone Circuit is sacred territory that we cannot wait to feel we are part of even if it’s from the comfort of the family room couch. All during this 4th of July holiday weekend, no less.
Related: Famed Goodwood Motor Circuit: 2022 Festival of Speed