Seven years before the inaugural Formula 1 Grand Prix race, Silverstone saw its first action as a world war two air field in 1943, with the end of hostilities in 1945 the sites primary use was as a farm producing cereal crops.
With Brooklands sold off, Crystal Palace in no fit state to resume racing and Donington Park still being used by the military for vehicle storage, the Royal Automobile Club agreed a lease for the Northamptonshire airstrip and charged the farmer with creating the first track. 1948 saw the first race at the newly formed track which utilised both of the sites runways. The race was run by Italian Luigi Villoresi driving a Maserati.
Silverstone cemented its place in the history books on 13th May 1950 when it hosted the first round of the newly formed Formula one world championship. The race was dominated by Alfa Romeo with Giuseppe Fairina leading home a 1-2-3 for the Italian marque. Yves Giraud-Cabontous was best of the rest in his Talbot finishing 2 laps behind in fourth.
After hosting the race for the first six years, Silverstone then had to share hosting the race, firstly with Aintree, alternating yearly until 1961. Brands Hatch then took over from Aintree as co-host of the event, again alternating with Silverstone right up to 1986.
1987 saw Silverstone become ‘the home of British motor sport’ as the sole venue for the race. The fans were treated to an epic duel between Nelson Piquet and local hero Nigel Mansell. ‘Our Nige’, suffering from a wheel vibration pitted mid way through the race for fresh rubber. He rejoined the track 29 second seconds behind his team-mate with 28 laps to go. Over the next 26 laps Mansell broke the lap record eleven times to close up to the gear box of Piquet’s car and taking the lead with one of the most memorable moves the sport has ever witnessed.
Between 1950 and 1990 the circuit remained pretty much unchanged with the only major alterations being the relocation of the pits complex between Woodcote and Copse corner. 1991 saw the first major changes to the layout of the circuit with alterations to Vale, an infield section between Abby and Woodcote and most importantly the new Maggotts/Becketts complex, a firm favourite with drivers and fans alike.
A new threat to Silverstone’s right to host the race came in 2008, where during the race weekend,, Bernie Ecclestone announced a deal to move the race to Donington Park from 2010. Ecclestone has had an ongoing dispute with the BRDC (who run Siverstone) and the timing of the announcement served as a reminder of their fractious relationship.
Donington Venture Limited, the new lease holders of Donington Park failed in the bid to secure the £135m funding needed to redevelop the site and to pay Bernie to stage the race. This gave Silverstone a reprieve and hosted the race in 2010.
This weekends race is truly the start of a new era for Silverstone. With the new ‘wing’ pit complex open along with the new start/finish straight. The future of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone seems to be more secure now than any time in the previously. With the race guaranteed until 2026 and sell out crowds flocking every year, the home of British motor sport will continue to be just that.