In preparation for Sunday’s race Badger has taken a look back at all six decades of the British Grand Prix, as well as throwing in a bit of British culture from each decade. In part one we’re focusing on the first thirty years of the race, from the fifties to the seventies. Enjoy!
The fifties: Britain was rebuilding following World War Two, and got a new Queen when Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953; Roger Bannister ran a mile in under four minutes, and one hundred thousand people were packing in to Wembley for FA Cup finals; TV increased its grip on the nation, whilst Samuel Beckett was perplexing theatre goers with plays like Waiting For Godot. And, as all this went on, Formula One made its debut in 1950, with the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
That was won by Nino Farina, who was driving an Alfa Romeo. Italians made a good go of the race back then, with Alberto Ascari winning for Ferrari in 1952 and 1953. But that was to be the last Italian victory at the British Grand Prix to date- anyone fancy Tonio Liuzzi or Jarno Trulli to end the drought this weekend? Thought not.
In 1955 Stirling Moss became the first British driver to win his home grand prix, triumphing at the Aintree circuit in a Mercedes. It was a great day for the Silver Arrows, as they took a clean sweep of the top four positions, Juan Manuel Fangio crossing the line just 0.2 seconds shy of Moss.
Held at Aintree, the 1957 race victory was shared- the only time this has happened at the British GP. Stirling Moss and fellow Brit Tony Brooks shared driving duties in a Vanwall that day, thus claiming the first F1 win for a British built car. Peter Collins claimed victory a year later, this time at Silverstone, heading an all-British top four.
Also a success on British soil in the fifties was José Froilán González, known to his fans as The Pampas Bull. González claimed victory at the 1951 and ’53 races, and the first was very significant: it was Ferrari’s first Formula One victory. This Grand Prix has more history than we know what to do with.
What to say about Britain’s contribution to the sixties? It was the decade that introduced the world to a group of mop-topped Liverpudlians who called themselves The Beatles; England won football’s World Cup, kicking off five decades of expectation and disappointment; and in 1963 Doctor Who made its first appearance on TV screens.
And the 1960s were also a golden era for British drivers at their home grand prix, with one man in particular staking a claim to be regarded as the greatest in the event’s history.
Because in the sixties the British Grand Prix belonged to Jim Clark. He won the race five times in eight attempts during the decade (a record he shares with Alain Prost), three of them at Silverstone and one apiece at Brands Hatch and Aintree.
In 1963 it was a British 1-2-3, with Clark heading John Surtees and Graham Hill. A year later, this time at Silverstone, Clark did it again, and once more topped an all British podium, with Hill second this time and Surtees third. And when Clark took his third British win in 1965 who do you think joined him on the podium? Hill and Surtees of course! 5th in that race was a young Scott making his first start on home soil: Jackie Stewart. Sir Jackie would take a British Grand Prix victory of his own during this decade, winning the 1969 running- a race in which he lapped the entire field.
Incredibly, neither Hill nor Surtees, two of the great British talents of this era, ever won their home race, in no small part due to Clark’s domination of the event. As such Badger must salute Clark, perhaps the greatest British driver to contest his home grand prix. Had he not perished in an F2 race in 1968 there’s little doubt Clark would have added to his tally.
In the seventies Led Zepplin confused the world by playing deeply American influenced music and singing in very American accents but actually being British; the nation’s car industry took a mighty walloping from the growing power of Japan; and a generation of the nation’s teenagers suffered permenant injury thanks to arcade games like Space Invaders. Was it worth it?
During the seventies the British Grand Prix alternated between Brands Hatch and Silverstone, as it had since 1963. It was a decade in which McLaren asserted themselves as an F1 force, not least in Britian, where they claimed three victories- all at Silverstone.
Their first came courtesy of Peter Revson in 1973, in a race best remembered for hugh pile-up that eliminated a gaggle of cars. Beginning lap 2 Jody Scheckter spun his McLaren on the pit straight causing mayhem behind him, as several cars piled in to the South African or took eachother out trying to avoid him. Revson won from Ronnie Peterson’s Lotus and fellow McLaren drver Denny Hulme, the top 3 separated by just 3 seconds.
1976 was an odd one. Starting from 2nd on the grid British hope James Hunt was involved in a first corner collision caused by Clay Regazzoni’s spinning Ferrari. The race was red flagged, and the cars made their way back to the pits. But Hunt took a shortcut, using an access road to make his return, and the stewards declared that, being as he had been off-track when the red dropped, Hunt couldn’t take part in the restart. But after some consideration, and a lot of pressure from the home fans, Hunt was allowed to take part in the grand prix- and duly won it from arch-rival Niki Lauda.
Ferrari and Tyrrell protested the result, but had their complaints rejected by the stewards. It would be another two months before the result was finally made official- Hunt was disqualified, handing Lauda victory. But, 12 months later, Hunt got his home victory, as he defeated Lauda to claim triumph in the 1977 event. It’s a funny thing, F1, and was even more so in the seventies.
Finally, whilst we’re on ’77, it has to be mentioned that this race saw a stunning debut from Canadian senastion Gilles Villeneuve. Driving a third McLaren- and an out of date one at that- Gilles qualified 9th, beating teammate Jochen Mass (who had the latest car), and ran an impressive 6th before being forced to pit. He’d go on to finish 11th, but he’d done enough to impress: 4 months later he was Ferrari driver, and the rest is history.
Badger’s look at the history of the British GP continues tomorrow, when we’ll be looking at the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s.