Crown duels

{RAC Grand Prix de l’Europe, Silverstone, May 1950}
There were some notable guests among the estimated 150,000 crowd as international motor racing moved into a bold new era
Writer: Simon Arron, Illustrator: Guy Allen

History records it as the opening round of the freshly inaugurated Formula 1 world championship. The June 1950 edition of Motor Sport headlined it, “The Royal Silverstone Meeting” and there was, we were told, “glorious weather for their majesties’ visit”.

King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, HRH Princess Margaret and Lord and Lady Mountbatten were introduced to drivers before the day’s main event and went on to watch the action from “various vantage points”, although there was a royal box located between the two grandstands opposite the pits.

Nowadays, spectators rightly complain about limited access to F1 cars and stars – but the warning signs were always there. Pre-race favourite Alfa Romeo received preferential treatment, for instance. “To meet requirements,” noted our report, “they were given pits at the top end and the grass was cropped behind so that they could get down to work in their own roped-off paddock.” Not quite a three-tier motorhome, even so.

Motor Sport also noted, “A bit of British enterprise behind the pits was the bright-red GPO mobile post office, complete with telephone and telegraph facilities, on an articulated Morris Commercial chassis registered GPO 1. Sir Algernon Guinness and his Grace the Duke of Richmond and Gordon displayed great interest, and Louis Chiron, in full racing attire, was one of the first to use it.”

Much faster than anything else, the Alfa Romeo 158s led away – the noise and smoke at the start taking the Queen “a trifle unawares” – and finished well clear of the opposition. Juan Manuel Fangio retired with a broken con-rod, but team-mates Nino Farina, Luigi Fagioli and Reg Parnell cemented a 1-2-3. Yves Girard-Cabantous (Talbot) took fourth, two laps behind the winner. Not much of a contest, then, but it had been quite an occasion.