Silverstone celebrates its seventieth anniversary this year and will host the British Grand Prix for the 52nd time.
The circuit has seen it all over the years – from witnessing the birth of Formula One to Mansell Mania and a fair few traffic jams.
Nicky Haldenby picks out some of the most interesting facts from seventy years of Silverstone history.
According to the 2011 census, 2,176 people live in the village of Silverstone, though over a Grand Prix weekend they’re typically joined by over 120,000 temporary residents, many of whom camp in the fields nearby the circuit. That’s an impressive population growth of 5515%.
Such is the number of people flocking to the circuit, the usually quiet village pays host to the world’s busiest airport on race day, with helicopters flying in and out of the circuit on a near constant basis. The Silverstone Heliport even holds the world record for the busiest airport in a single day, having seen over 4,000 helicopter movements on the Sunday of the 1999 British Grand Prix.
Who’s the fastest?
Back in the 1950s, Formula One drivers were incited to drive faster with a point on offer in reward for setting the fastest lap of a Grand Prix. Of course, back then, the timing systems were nowhere near as advanced as the timing systems which have been in F1 since the early eighties, which are able to record lap times down to a thousandth of a second. In the 1954 British Grand Prix, seven different drivers all set a lap time of 1:50. Instead of each of the seven drivers receiving a point, the point was shared between them, and they were each give a seventh of a point. The rule left Juan Manuel Fangio leading the Drivers’ Championship with 28 1⁄7 points, while José Froilán González, who had earned 1.5 points in the Belgian Grand Prix after sharing his car with Mike Hawthorn, trailed with 14 9⁄14 points.
The 1984 European Grand Prix is the last time multiple drivers shared the fastest lap of the race. Nelson Piquet and Michele Alboreto each set their time on the same lap of the race.
Keep your hands off the trophy
The trophy for the British Grand Prix has a long and interesting history which extends long before the first British Grand Prix. The trophy itself dates back to at least 1898, with it being awarded at that year’s Richmond Horse Show. The BRDC are believed to have received the cup as a donation from Charles Rolls, one of the founders of Rolls Royce, and had it re-engraved. It has been presented to the winner of the British Grand Prix ever since the inaugural event at Silverstone in 1948. In 2005, an additional base was put on the bottom of the trophy to allow room for future winners’ names.
Unusually, the winner doesn’t get to keep the cup, and it is returned to its permanent home at the Royal Automobile Club shortly after the podium celebrations. Lewis Hamilton was highly unimpressed when he was handed a red plastic Santander-sponsored trophy for his victory in 2014 instead of the historic gold cup. It really is the one they all want to get their hands on, and there are plenty of images of British Grand Prix winners Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel looking with admiration at the names engraved on the precious silverware.
Silverstone may be celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, but the first race at the former airfield was actually held in 1947. After testing out his new sportscar at the airfield in the previous year, Maurice Geoghegan – a resident of the village of Silverstone – decided, with a group of eleven friends, to hold an impromptu and illegal race at the deserted RAF base in September 1947. During the race, Geoghegan hit a sheep which had wandered onto the makeshift track. The sheep was killed, and his car written off, leading to the event being nicknamed the ‘Mutton Grand Prix’.
Typical British weather
Us Brits like to complain about the weather, but there was good reason to at the 1975 British Grand Prix when a hailstorm arrived at the circuit mid-race and caused havoc. The resulting conditions led to a plethora of crashes. Jean-Pierre Jarrier was first to crash out at Becketts, before no less than seven other drivers would aquaplane off the circuit, which left only six cars running in the Grand Prix. The race was halted and Emerson Fittipaldi, who had remained on the circuit, took his final F1 victory.
It’s not the only time that Silverstone has suffered the wrath of the weather gods. In 2000, the race was moved from its usual summer slot to the fourth round of the season in April. Predictably, torrential downpours plagued the weekend, and 50,000 fans were turned away from the circuit on Qualifying day as car parks had to undergo emergency repairs. It was a similar story in 2012 as, despite the race being in July, heavy downpours led to organisers asking 30,000 fans not to turn up for the Saturday action.
Nice to see you Ma’am?
The 1950 British Grand Prix remains the last time where the reigning British monarch has attended a Grand Prix. King George VI attended alongside his wife, Elizabeth, and Princess Margaret. Prince Harry, Prince William and Princess Diana have all attended British Grands Prix since, and Prince Harry even spoke to Lewis Hamilton on the Mercedes team radio following his 2014 championship victory in Abu Dhabi, but Queen Elizabeth II has never attended a Grand Prix.
Still, we’re sure if a London Grand Prix took place and passed down The Mall, Queen Liz would give a royal wave from the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
Nigel Mansell once claimed that the fans at his home Grand Prix gave him a speed boost around the circuit – and there’s even evidence to support his claim.
British drivers have excelled at Silverstone. Only four drivers have ever taken three consecutive poles here – Jim Clark, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill and Lewis Hamilton – and all of them are British. British drivers have taken twenty wins between them at Silverstone, four times as many as the next nearest nation’s win count (France and Germany, each with five).
British drivers have collectively taken 39 podium finishes at Silverstone. That’s over double the amount of the next nearest country’s tally (Germany with 17) and a quarter of all the podium places in races at the track. In 1958, 1963 and 1965, British drivers dominated the podium, taking rare all-British podiums in all three years.