As Silverstone approaches its anniversary, we take a blast down memory lane with some of those who helped cement its place in motor sport history
“Welcome to Snitterfield, home of British motor racing…” It doesn’t have quite the right ring, but it might easily have become part of the modern racing lexicon. Seventy years ago, when the Royal Automobile Club was looking for a suitable site on which to kick-start top-class motor sport in the aftermath of World War Two, it narrowed its choice to two disused wartime airfields: one was Snitterfield, a few miles from Stratford-upon-Avon, and the other was in an equally sleepy location, straddling the Northants/Bucks border. RAF Silverstone was eventually selected and, on October 2, 1948, became the second permanent racetrack to open in post-war Britain, a month after Goodwood. Luigi Villoresi (Maserati) won the headline event, the RAC International Grand Prix, and Silverstone has been at the forefront of British racing ever since.
It has evolved from a naked airfield featuring a course marked out with oil drums to an internationally celebrated venue sprinkled with corporate hospitality and conference facilities, driver training centres, workshop units and a multitude of circuit layouts, some of which can be used simultaneously.
It was home to the inaugural round of the world championship for drivers, in May 1950, and this year’s British GP will be its 52nd race of such stature. Only Monza and Monaco have hosted more.
From the mid 1950s to the early ’60s it shared the GP with Aintree, before alternating with Brands Hatch beyond 1964. In 1987 it was confirmed as the British GP’s sole future home – a position challenged only by F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone’s occasional threats to expel the race from the calendar unless its amenities were upgraded. On the eve of the 2008 British GP, the FIA announced that Silverstone would lose the race to Donington Park from 2010… only for that deal eventually to collapse, at which point Silverstone stepped back into the breach, pledged to build a new pit complex and agreed a fresh, 17-year term that safeguarded the race until the end of 2026.
Since then, however, citing its inability to run the race sustainably, Silverstone’s owner, the British Racing Drivers’ Club, has triggered a break clause in its contract and, as things stand, the 2019 GP will be its last… unless F1’s new owner Liberty Media is able to cut a mutually acceptable deal. The will is there to preserve the race, but not at any cost.
Silverstone is the only UK circuit with an F1-appropriate FIA Grade 1 licence, so there are presently no alternative GP hosts.
But irrespective of future developments, Silverstone can continue to call itself “The home of British motor racing.” It is a regular port of call for the World Endurance Championship, remains on the MotoGP calendar, its annual Classic is the world’s largest historic racing festival, it recently became home to the British round of the World Rallycross Championship and it continues to stage a wide range of events from the Blancpain Endurance, British Superbike and British Touring Car Championships down to grass-roots staples such as the Walter Hayes Trophy Formula Ford extravaganza.
Whatever happens next, Silverstone has an indelible place in racing history. We chose to mark its 70th anniversary by picking a GP from each of its eight decades – and getting the inside line from those who were there.