A Brief History of The British Grand Prix

In today’s world, Formula one boss, Bernie Ecclestone, has the pick of some of the most exciting venues in the world to stage a grand prix. In recent years, we have seen races held in Singapore, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. For every new venue that makes it on to the calendar, there are several more waiting in the wings, ready to take their chance on the world stage.

With multi million pounds, government backed schemes getting the go-ahead from Russia to Argentina and everywhere in-between, the historic European heartland of F1 is increasingly under threat. 1950 saw the inaugural F1 world championship. It was contested over seven races held at Silverstone, Monaco, Indianapolis (USA), Bremgarten (Switzerland), Reims-Gueux (France), and Spa (Belgium) and Monza (Italy).

Out of the seven original circuits, only four remain on the calendar for the 2012 world championship, Monaco, Monza, Spa and Silverstone.

Silverstone, as many of the UK’s circuits, began life as WW2 airfields that were abandoned after the end of hostilities in 1945. The first race was held at Silverstone in 1947 and was dubbed the Mutton Grand Prix after the race organiser, Maurice Geoghegan, hit a sheep resulting in a written off car. This first layout made use of the two runways on the site with the course marked out with straw bales.

Silverstone was given the honor of being the first race of the inaugural championship in 1950. Even though little had been done to the site, the track had moved to the perimeter road, giving the Northamptonshire circuit its fast, flowing layout that would remain right up to 1990. Although the British Grand Prix and Silverstone remain on the calendar, its journey has been one filled with more drama than your average soap opera.

Long before Silverstone became under threat from overseas, other British circuits were vying to host the Grand Prix. In 1955, Aintree became co-host of the Grand Prix, alternating with Silverstone. Built in 1954, the circuit ran inside of the perimeter of the world famous Grand National horse racing course. This partnership ran until 1962 when competitive racing all but stopped at Aintree.

During this time, very little had happened to Silverstone, the pit lane had been moved from Farm to the short straight between Woodcote and Copse corners but essentially that was all. Aintree was superseded by Brands Hatch as the new co-hosts of the race. The Kent circuit has undergone a substantial redevelopment in the late fifties and held its first non-championship F1 race in 1960. Silverstone became the ‘home of the British Grand Prix’ in 1987 when it became the sole host of the race.

The British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC) had purchased the lease of the circuit from the RAC in 1952. The club comprised of British drivers who had been judged to to have been successful at an international level for a number of seasons. The BRDC formed a subsidiary, company Silverstone Circuits Limited, responsible for the development of the British Grand Prix. The BRDC bought the circuit and ground outright in 1971.

The BRDC have long been at loggerheads with Formula 1s commercial rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone. Ecclestone, 81, the ex team owner of the Brabham F1 team later became chief executive of the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA). In 1978 he negotiated a series of legal issues with the FIA and Jean-Marie Balestre, culminating in Ecclestone’s famous coup, in which saw him secure the right for FOCA to negotiate television contracts for the Grands Prix.

Ecclestone has always been outspoken in his criticism of Silverstone and the way it is run by the BRDC. On several occasions he has tried to take the race elsewhere. In 1999, Ecclestone struck a deal with Nicola Foulston, the then owner of Brands Hatch to see the race return to Kent from 2002. The subsequent sale of Brands Hatch coupled with the failure to gain the necessary planning permission by Octagon, the new owners, saw the race continue at Silverstone.

On 4 July 2008 (qualifying day at Silverstone for the Grand Prix), Ecclestone announced that Donington Park had been awarded the contract to host the British Grand Prix for 10 years from 2010. However, Donington failed to secure the necessary funding to host the race, and its contract was terminated in November 2009. On 7 December 2009, Silverstone signed a 17 year contract to host the British Grand Prix from 2010 onwards. The 2010 race saw a new circuit configuration being used, using the brand new “Arena” layout.

Today, Silverstone is barely recognisable from the barren ex airstrip that host the first ever F1 championship race in 1950. As part of the current seventeen year deal, Silverstone has undergone another major facelift. The pit and paddock complex have relocated to very near their original place after Stowe corner.

Further redevelopments are planned which include a theme park, hotel and leisure facilities. All are subject to further investment. The president of the BRDC, Derek Warwick, talked in detail about the future of the circuit at the recent fans’ forum on June 3rd held at the Williams Grand Prix conference centre, Grove, Oxfordshire. “Talks are still ongoing, we entered into an exclusive dialog with one party, the exclusivity of these talks has now ended. We are now talking to three interested parties who we hope we can go forward with and achieve the long term future for Silverstone as the home of the British Grand Prix.”

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2 thoughts on “A Brief History of The British Grand Prix

  1. lilewis

    Very interesting read!
    As I’m predominantly a bike fan these days the whole Silverstone/Donington issue puts me in mind of the MotoGP racing moving to Silverstone around that time leaving Donington looking shaky as a venue! As much as I love visiting Silverstone (so thanks for a great history lesson on it!) and think it is probably the UK’s most exciting track layout, I do miss heading off to Nottingham and getting the bus up to Donington ansd hoping all the rock fans didn’t ruin the track the week before! (beats the taxi to Silverstone for fun any day!)

    Getting back into F1 a bit this season as the championship is a lot closer and more interesting!

    Reply

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