In preparation for Sunday’s race Badger has taken a look back at all six decades of the British Grand Prix. In part one we’re focusing on the first thirty years of the race, from the fifties to the seventies.
The fifties were the decade that began it all, with Formula One making its very first appearance at the Silverstone circuit on May 13th 1950. This was won by Nino Farina aboard his Alfa Romeo; with fellow countryman Alberto Ascari triumphing for Ferrari in 1952 and ’53 these were heady days for the Italians.
In 1955 Stirling Moss became the first British driver to win his home grand prix. Triumphing at the Aintree circuit in the Mercedes W196, Sir Stirling also took pole and recorded the fastest lap to ensure a perfect weekend. It was a great day all round for the Silver Arrows, the German marque netting a clean sweep of the top four positions with Juan Manuel Fangio, Karl Kling and Piero Taruffi following Moss across the line.
Victory at the 1957 race victory was shared – the only time this has happened at the British GP. Moss and fellow Brit Tony Brooks shared driving duties in a Vanwall that day at Aintree, 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 ’54 races, the first proving to be very significant: it was Ferrari’s first Formula One triumph. This Grand Prix has more history than we know what to do with.
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! Fifth 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 Gentleman Jim, perhaps the greatest British driver to contest his home grand prix – if not any. Had he not perished in an F2 race in 1968 there’s little doubt the Scotsman would have added to his tally.
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 huge pile-up that eliminated a gaggle of cars. Beginning lap two 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 second 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.