While watching the 1989 British Grand Prix from the inside of Copse Corner, a delighted roar from several thousands of Nigel Mansell’s friends prompted me to look across to the huge ‘Starvision’ screen where I was astonished to see a shot of Ayrton Senna climbing from his McLaren-Honda after planting it firmly into the gravel trap at Becketts Corner!
My mind immediately went back to another, much earlier occasion when, in 1956, I had watched with even greater incredulity as Juan Manuel Fangio himself, spun his Ferrari-Lancia off the track at the very same corner while pursuing the leading BRM P25s of Mike Hawthorn and Tony Brooks! Of course, there were no gravel traps in those days, and the great Argentinian was able to scream back into the race in which he went on to score his only British Grand Prix victory. That 1956 race is now motor racing history, and so, sadly, is Becketts Corner, bypassed into oblivion by a series of newly computerized high speed swerves!
I first discovered Becketts at the 1953 International Trophy meeting, arriving just in time to see Sydney Allard crunching his new J2R backwards into the safety bank! Being Sydney Allard of course, he lost no time in rejoining the race, the crowd giving an appreciative cheer as the hunchbacked car lurched back into the fray! From that day Becketts became our most popular Silverstone vantage point. International race day mornings would find our BRM supporters banner fluttering above our sleep seeking bodies, wrapped in cycle capes after the overnight ride up the A5 from our North London homes!
There was always something rather exclusive about Becketts in those pre-TV monitor days. Being out of sight of the race commentators, you had to be there to see it, and over the years there was plenty to see!
Mike Hawthorn almost stopping during his slowing down lap after the 1958 Grand Prix to collect the pint mug of beer which Duncan Hamilton and Co had been displaying to him during the closing laps of the race! Something a little stronger was required that day in 1958 when we dodged an errant rear wheel from Tommy Sopwith’s Jaguar during the saloon car race! The following year we were almost joined in the spectator enclosure by Kansas City flier Masten Gregory, who soared into view after stepping off the tail of his brakeless Lister Jaguar seconds before it ploughed into the earth safety bank!
The privilege of a Press Pass in the 1970s gave me access to more fashionable parts of the circuit, but the pull of Becketts remained. Once, while following the progress of a local driver in the British Formula 3 Championship I went out to the old corner to watch the action. Being unable to match the speed of the flying leaders, my man did the next best thing by spinning his car gently off the road and into the catch fencing. My paper gave the story a typically low key treatment, ‘Local man in 100 mph Becketts drama!’ screamed the headline!
On Sunday afternoon July 29th 1990 of course, it all came to an end with the Christie’s Historic Festival being the very last meeting to use the familiar Silverstone Grand Prix circuit before the bulldozers moved in. We made the rather sad journey out to Becketts to see the very last race to use our old corner, a pre-1965 Grand Prix car race over seven laps. There were no press men, just the marshals and a handful of spectators possibly saying ‘their’ goodbyes to an old friend. Considering past allegiances it was perhaps appropriate that the last car to race through the corner was the BRM P57 of Alain De Cadenet, at least two cameras clicking to record the historic occasion! I am told that I am being totally irrational about an old corner. Silverstone has to move into the 1990s, they say. The cars have outgrown the circuit, its too boring/dangerous now!
Maybe they’re right, but I felt comfortable with the layout I had known since 1950. Given a pen I could draw the outline of the three mile Grand Prix circuit with my eyes shut, I always will, even if I do leave in Becketts Corner! Cheerio old friend, I’ll come round and see you sometime!