July sees a very special anniversary for the home of British motorsport. Silverstone is about to join a very exclusive club (so far only consisting of Monza and Monte Carlo) of venues that have hosted 50 or more Formula 1 races.
The 2014 race will no doubt be dominated by a further installment in the season-long duel between Mercedes team-mates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Hamilton will naturally be keen to capitalise on his home soil advantage – but with the German currently holding a 22-point lead, we can expect another decent two-way contest.
Silverstone has seen more than its fair share of rivalries and dramas played out over the years. Here are a few of the key moments in its history.
Dreary post-War Britain didn’t have much in the way of world-class motorsports facilities (yet). What it did have were plenty of old airfields. In true make-do-and-mend style, a former RAF base at Silverstone was converted into a race track. The first British Grand Prix (the Royal Automobile Club International Grand Prix) took place in 1948.
Two years later, with the King and 200,000 other spectators watching, the first ever World Championship Grand Prix took place at Silverstone. Giuseppe Farina came out on top in an Alfa Romeo. There was an Englishman on the podium though; Farina’s team-mate Reg Parnell came in third.
Some say Argentinean Juan Manuel Fangio was the greatest ever Formula 1 driver. In 1956, well in his 40s, El Maestro triumphed at Silverstone (the year that he claimed is fourth World Championship).
Jim Clark shares the honours of most British Grand Prix wins with Alain Prost (five in total). Clark was to win the Championship in 1963 and ’65. After Clark’s death in 1968, Sir Jackie Stewart later spoke about what made Clark so great: “He never bullied a car, he sort of caressed it into doing the things he wanted it to do”.
Silverstone in 1963 was to see Clark’s intelligence and intuition put to the test. Coming into the last lap, the fuel gauge on his Lotus was at empty. He had to cruise the car home in top gear and still managed to win.
In a wonderful Tyrell 003-Cosworth, In 1971, Jackie Stewart came out top in the British Grand Prix – just as he did in Spain, Monaco, France, Canada and Germany to take the second of his three Drivers’ Championship titles.
1976 had seen the flamboyant James Hunt claim the world title against arch-rival Niki Lauda. The following year was to see him finish fifth in total. A high point in 1977 though, was a win on home soil after having trailed John Watson for 25 laps.
1987 saw Nigel Mansell notch up one of his most thrilling wins – and it happened on English soil. In keeping of a long and honourable tradition of mutual loathing between team-mates, this was a Mansell v Piquet epic battle. With 30 laps remaining and a 28-second gap to make up, few would have put money on Mansell.
What followed was a series of lightning fast laps to leave Nigel right behind Piquet. He sold Piquet a dummy, forcing the Frenchman to concede at Stowe with six laps to spare. Mansell was mobbed by the home fans; a fitting conclusion to what was Silverstone’s finest moment.
A fledgling rivalry grew into something a little more ingrained thanks to the 1994 British Grand Prix. This was at a time when Michael Schumacher was unstoppable. Silverstone though, was Damon Hill’s moment. After all, this was one race his father had never managed to win.
Damon had managed to take pole by 3000 th of a second and went on to claim victory. Schumacher on the other hand was reprimanded for overtaking Hill on the formation lap before ignoring the black flag. He was denied his second place and banned for the next two races.
The following year saw Schumacher and Hill collide – after what Schumacher referred to as a “stupid” overtaking move by the Englishman – letting Johnny Herbert notch up his first ever top flight win.
Does the name Neil Horan ring any bells? He was the defrocked Irish priest who opted to invade the track mid-race in 2003 before being tackled to the ground by a marshal. The race itself wasn’t unmemorable either. Schumacher gave a young Fernando Alonso short shrift; forcing him onto the grass early on. It was Rubens Barichello who took top honours though, after outfoxing Kimi Raikkonen.
2008 was seriously wet. Things weren’t looking great for the young Lewis Hamilton after an error in Qualifying meant that he started fourth on the grid. It turned out to be one of his best drives in what were pretty awful conditions. He won by over a minute after a masterclass exhibition of driving.
This year Mercedes are in the ascendency – but as well all know, this won’t last forever. What we can count on though, are plenty of thrills and spills over the next 50 years of British Grand Prix.
Watch all the action from Silverstone Circuits, the home of British Motor Racing and UK’s premier motorsport venue.