A-Z of the British GP



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Horses for courses? Not necessarily. The home of the Grand National hosted five British GPs (plus 11 non-championship F1 races) in the 1950s and early ’60s on a track weaving around and within the steeplechase course. Aintree owners the Topham family, inspired by Goodwood’s equine/ engine mix, formed the Aintree Automobile Racing company, then forged an alliance with the BARC and successfully lobbied the RAC to share the race with Silverstone. But spiralling costs and the rise of Brands Hatch spelt an end to British GPs in Liverpool. Snooty Jockey Club members bid good riddance. Most memorable moments: Moss and Fangio’s 1955 formation finish in the Mercs, and Stirling scoring the first World Championship GP victory for a British car with Vanwall in ’57, sharing with Tony Brooks.

And then there’s… Airfield track Old WWII RAF base becomes post-war home of British motor racing. ‘Busiest airport in the world’ line regularly trotted out by commentators on British GP day. Anoraks (See also folding chairs). Abbey Corner, not the chicane. April showers How to turn the screw on poor old Silverstone? Schedule the race for April. And who suffered in the chaos of the 2000 race? The public, of course (see also quagmire, BRDC, Ecclestone and, er, anoraks).


The ultimate racing drivers’ club, and owner of Silverstone. When it was founded by ‘Bentley Boy’ Dr Benjafield in 1928 (four years after Motor Sport), the BRDC had just 25 members. Today it still has only 850-odd — it’s elitist by its very nature. Bernie Ecclestone appears to hate the club, judging by what he has said and done over the past 20-plus years. Does it date back to an EGM in 1988 during which a member told Bernie “We don’t want your money”? Well, it didn’t help. Neither did the opening of the swanky new clubhouse in 2000 — the year in which fans were up to their wheel arches in mud in the so-called car parks. But after years of taking a battering, the BRDC is finally shaking off its stuffy image. Under (outgoing) president Damon Hill, it has modernised without betraying its values. Becoming a member means something to young drivers once again, and they’re proud to join — just as they should be.

And then there’s… BBQs Sausage + bacon. staple diet. ‘Nuff said. Bridge Corner Used to be ballsy. Then they neutered it. Now they’ve killed it (see also Abbey, Woodcote). By-pass The saviour of Silverstone? (see also traffic) Brown As in Jimmy. Much-missed original Silverstone track manager who became the circuit’s chairman.

Step forward Jackie Stewart. There was still a working farm on the Silverstone infield in 1973 when JYS lost his Tyrrell at Stowe while challenging Ronnie Peterson for the lead. Only the airbox of his 006 was clearly visible as he reaped an unexpected harvest. Safety? Well, it did slow him down…

And then there’s… Copse It used to be a great first corner. Now it’s just a great corner. Cool box (See also anoraks, folding chairs…). Catch-fencing Wooden posts connected by wire mesh? Yeah, great idea. We’d prefer cornfields. Car parks These days, some of them even have a hard surface! Still make us shudder, though (see also traffic, quagmire…).


Advertising works. For motor racing fans during the 1970s and ’80s, the tabloid newspaper was intrinsically linked to Silverstone. At a circuit with so few landmarks, the bridge crossing the track before Woodcote was it. Here’s an idea: revive the link by branding the bridge over the new Wellington Straight. But we guess the race’s modern title sponsor, Santander, might protest… And then there’s… Donington Park Pre-war British GP venue. Post-war, a calamitous British GP red-herring. Held a great European GP though, in 1993. Druids The

hairpin featured Brands Hatch’s own landmark bridge, branded in Dunlop yellow. A bridge is still there, but Dunlop’s gone. Boo! Diana, Princess of Wales The ‘People’s Princess’ was a visitor to the podium in 1994 (please note: not as a driver).


The scourge of Silverstone but bizarrely perhaps its greatest ally too after that vital 17-year deal. Raced at Silverstone in the 500cc support race in 1951. But sentiment isn’t really his thing. And then there’s… Enthusiasts Better than the tifosi (see also, anoraks, folding chairs, cool boxes,, 0, Expensive It is, But blame the bloke above,


It’s 6am. The gates are opening and the flood begins. The fans are in a race to get that prime spot right next to the fence. Weighed down by cool box in one hand, fold-up chair in the other, they quick-step waddle up the spectator banks to claim their plot. And then the wait begins. The biggest challenge? If it’s raining, how to avoid pneumonia. Otherwise, finding the willpower not to empty that cool box before 11 am. Forget grandstands. The fold-up chair fans are what make Silverstone so great. All-seater Fl ‘stadia’? No thanks. And then there’s… Fosters The fuel to survive Silverstone, Just drink it before it goes warm, As race title sponsors go, only trumped by JPS and Marlboro in retronostalgia stakes (yes, we know, booze ‘n fags are bad, But we don’t care, They’re better than a bloody bank!),

As in Jose Froilan. Picture the archetype of the Grand Prix hero… and you won’t imagine ‘The Pampus Bull’ (BTW, the archetype is Carlos Reutemann, we reckon). But Gonzalez was (and is) a true legend of Silverstone. He won the race twice, the first in 1951 marking Ferrari’s maiden GP victory as an F1 constructor. On neither occasion, we believe, is it likely that he ‘hit the gym’ the morning after.

And then there’s… Green Man If walls could talk at Silverstone’s favourite watering hole… There’s a Premier Inn next door these days. Gravel traps First catch-fencing, then these. There used to be acres of them. Now they’ve been replaced by, er, asphalt… Government grants At Silverstone? Let’s not go there…


Scene of Mansell’s dummy and mad track-invading Irish priests. We often talk about great corners. This is a great straight — and it’s about the only bit of the old Silverstone that’s still left. And then there’s… Helicopters ‘For one day a year, Silverstone has the busiest airspace in the world…’ etc. Hares Often seen scampering about on

said straight above. But we haven’t spotted one for ages. Anyone else?


No, not priests. We’re talking about goodnatured mass crowd invasions in the days when a solitary pole and a jump from the sleepers separated the fans from the track. We all did it during the lap of honour (remember them? See entry for L) and we all dutifully returned to our fold-up chairs once the moment had passed. Then ‘Mansell Mania’ ruined everything. Running onto the track while cars were still racing? Idiots.

And then there’s… Icecream Not as good as Fosters, but still essential.

It really started with James Hunt and the throwing-canson-the-track fury of Brands ’76. Driver nationality never meant much to racing fans until then. But overwrought patriotism reached new heights (or depths, depending on your point of view) in the days of Mansell Mania. Introverted, modest Damon Hill somehow inspired similar fervour, but two-time British GP winner David Coulthard, Jenson Button and 2008 victor Lewis Hamilton have never whipped up the crowds in quite the same way. Must be a chemistry thing.

And then there’s… Jordan The ‘home’ team, in every sense — based a `stone’s throw from the main gate’ TM. John Player Special (See also Fosters).

Fag out, boost up, a few spits of rain — to hell with it. Rosberg’s pole lap in 1985 has defined not only the man, but the track on which he made history: 2.9 miles in less than 66 seconds, at an average speed just over 160mph. And all with a slow puncture too. The old Silverstone was an awesome place — and Keke’s quallie run is the stuff of folklore. He didn’t win the race, of course. But no one cares about that.

And then there’s… Kentagon Brands Hatch’s own Green Man — and only a short stagger from the paddock!


Depending on your point of view, urbane Frenchman Jacques should have equalled Graham Hill’s thenrecord of 176 GP starts at Brands ’86, only to come to grief in a first-corner smash at Paddock Bend (future circuit boss Dr Jonathan Palmer famously jumping from his Zakspeed to come to his aid). The veteran’s leg injuries spelt a sad end to a distinguished Fl career. And so to the debate: some ‘statos’ argue that failing to take a restart after a red flag should go down in the records as a DNS. But as Niki Lauda said after being told that he didn’t officially start the ’76 German GP,”Then what happened to my

car!” Quite.

n there’s… Lap of honour (See invasions) Winners and their cars used to be paraded on a fiat-bed truck. In the ’80s, Brands squeezed The top three into the boot of a converted Cortina or Capri, At Silverstone ’87 Mansell rode pillion on a police motorcycle, stopping to kiss the ground in Papal fashion at the bit of track where he passed Piquet (yes, really), Laps of honour were brilliant, If Bernie cared about trackside fans he’d bring them back, But he doesn’t, So he won’t,

(See Invasions, Lap of honour) A phenomenon that lasted from 1986 to 1993 (yes, he was out of F1 then, but he took it with him to the BTCC TOGA shoot-out at Donington). An era of F1 for the masses — and Mansell fed off it to great effect. In the wake of his maiden win in the ’85 European GP at Brands, ‘Our Nige’ won the British in ’86, ’87, ’91 and ’92. He polarised opinion (and still does today), but we wouldn’t have missed those years for the world.

And then there’s… Marshals Britain’s ‘Orange Army’ sets the standard. Mud (See quagmire, BRDC) There’s less of it than there used to be (although we reserve the right to take that back if it rains on July 8-10).


Across the flat expanses of Silverstone, you could tell what was coming: V8, V10, V12 (and in other eras, V16, H16, whispering turbine…). Earplugs were for children and fairweather fans, said the hardcore. Today’s 2.4-litre V8s don’t sting the drums like the old V10s, but they still sound great (even if they are all the same). Let’s enjoy it while it lasts…

And then there’s… Nutter on the track 2003 British GP: Cornelius ‘Neil’ Horan, a defrocked priest wearing a kilt and tam o’ shanter, runs on to Hangar Straight during the race. Idiot. 2009: he pops up doing a jig on Britain’s Got Talent — and gets through to the next stage! More idiots.


Step forward Jack Brabham. Brands Hatch, 1970. ‘Black Jack’ splutters out of Clearways and Jochen Rindt scorches by — just as he had in Monaco. For years Jack blamed a mechanic called Ron Dennis — until Nick Goozee (later of Penske Cars) put his hand up: it was he, not Ron, who was responsible for not adjusting the fuel mixture and Jack had raced on ‘full rich’. Can’t imagine why he didn’t own up at the time…

And then there’s… Oil Drums Corner markers at ’50s Silverstone. Fangio spoilt the lines of his Merc streamliner on them in ’54. Original GP Well, in World Championship terms anyway.


Who else could it be but Michael Schumacher? At the end of a chaotic wet race in 1998, Schuey was given a lOsec stop-go penalty for a safety car infringement. Ferrari called him in on the last lap, but as he approached his pit he crossed the line and won the race! McLaren protested, but the stewards had made a mess of issuing the penalty and so Schuey kept the win. No one cheered. But perhaps it restored Ferrari karma for Brands ’74 when a furious Niki Lauda was blocked in the pits by a crowd of hangers-on and a course car Capri. And then there’s… Pit walk Bernie’s scuppered this too (see lap of honour), Paddock Club Formula I ‘s version of the ‘prawn sandwich brigade’, Roy Keane would not approve,


As in HRH (not the band). As Princess Elizabeth, she attended the first World Championship GP at Silverstone in 1950 with her mum, dad and sister. Cue amusing family photo of the Windsors standing on a bit of scaffolding in a field. And then there’s… Qualifying Stand at Maggotts to watch H cars being flung into the Becketts complex then tell us it’s not as good as it used to be, Quagmire (see mud, BRDC) The relative lack of this today is definitely better than it used to be,


Every year they amaze us. But they were at their best at Brands Hatch in the 1980s — when air display rules were less constrictive. Through the valley, they really did fly below the height of the trees at the top of South Bank. It was terrifying — which is exactly why we loved it. Concorde fly-pasts were another highlight, and then of course there was the Harrier Jump Jet in the middle of Clearways in 1980. When it took off it created a hurricane and total chaos. Wonderful.

And then there’s… Riot What nearly happened when the stewards tried to stop James Hunt taking the restart at Brands ’76 (see also jingoism). RAC It was the club’s blazer-brigade stewards who were responsible!


What to use to separate the spectator banks from one of the world’s fastest race tracks. Yes, railway sleepers must have seemed like a good idea at the time. They’re solid and won’t move when smacked by a fragile racing car. Along with the Daily Express bridge, they were a signature of Silverstone.

And then there’s… Silverstone Syd aka Syd Herbert. Drives Jaguar fire tender, never finishes the first lap. Once almost passed the editor in his sole race there… Supports GP2, GP3, Porsche Supercup, historics. Good, but we liked Formula Opel Euroseries, F3, BTCC, British GTs, Metros, Rovers, mad pros in XJR-15s…


Spectators in ’71 will remember the surreal whistle of Reine Wisell’s Lotus 56B. The experimental car, featuring a Pratt & Whitney turbine and four-wheel drive, had already appeared in non-championship races at Silverstone, Brands and Oulton Park. Dave Walker starred in the wet Dutch GP before spinning off, but Wisell lost power in the British GP and was not classified. Still, for the Silverstone faithful it had been an unforgettable cameo.

And then there’s… Toilets Oh, the queues, the aroma. Traffic Oh, the bitterness, the resentment. To plagiarise Douglas Adams, ‘The long, dark tea-time of the soul…’


They’d talked for most of the morning, giving us the buildup. Now it was the commentators’ big moment. Except we wouldn’t hear them. Yes, we’d listen to them describe the start, but once the field had spread out we were on our own. The dismembered voice would return like an old friend, once the chequered flag had fallen. And at Brands when you could hear Brian Jones, he sounded like a booming Norman Collier most of the time, as.. .only wo… intermit…ly…loody rub…

And then there’s… Umbrellas Better put it down once the race starts, no matter how wet it is — unless you want a mouthful from the bloke behind.

(See Aintree) On the wall in the Motor Sport office is a giant canvas photo of Tony Vandervell proudly holding aloft the British GP trophy at Aintree ’57. He’s flanked by the two grinning, panda-eyed faces of Tony Brooks and Stirling Moss, who’d shared the winning car that had just written a special bit of history. Stirling had won here before, but that had been in a silver German car. This was different. This was better.

And then there’s… Villeneuve Father Gilles made his memorable GP debut in a McLaren in ’77; his son Jacques stole team-mate Damon Hill’s thunder by winning in ’96. He did it again in ’97.


It was Jody Scheckter’s fault. Thanks to the ’73 pile-up he started, they stuck in the single-file chicane for ’75. No more Ronnie four-wheel drifts. But at least it was still quick. And then there’s… Webb As in John. Ebullient entrepreneu who made Brands GPs so much fun, The best race promoter ever? We reckon so, Woo/mark John Player, Shell Oils, Marlboro, Fosters, As race sponsors go, they all have a certain cachet, But Woolmark in ’77? What were they thinking? Still better than a bank, though,


Well, there was that streaker at Silverstone. And it’s certainly a good description of journalist Bob McKenzie’s lap in 2005. The Daily Express man was daft enough to say on radio that he’d run a lap of the track naked if McLaren won a race in ’04. Then Kimi Raikkanen obliged. Bob was a good sport. He completed his lap wearing only body paint and a sporran.

And then there’s… The best we’ve got is xenophobia (see jingoism, Mansell Mania), And that’s it,


That’ll be Sebastian Vettel in 2009. It was his third GP win and he had just turned 22. Now, as a World Champion, he’s favourite to win again.

And then there’s… Yardley Sponsor of ’73 bad-boy Scheckter’s McLaren. Teammate Peter Revson won the race. The American was the nephew of Charles Revson, boss of Revlon Cosmetics… which owned aftershave brand Yardley.


Damon Hill’s car number when he won in ’94. Also the number of times his dad Graham won his home race!

And then there’s… Zzzs What we all get little of on GP weekend. When you get home, either sunburnt or soaked, there’s nothing like your own bed on Sunday night…