Formula One is changing. The sport is increasingly expanding beyond its traditional European heartland, racing around circuits in Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Bahrain and China which are spanking new, glitzy and look breathtaking on the television but in reality are – for all their impressiveness — mere emasculated shadows of their far more formidable counterparts from a bygone era.
Yes, the world championship is now a truly global circus. However, modern-day Formula One’s 19-race calendar boasts but a handful of the “classics.” Spa, Monza, Monaco, Suzuka and even Interlagos – a selection of Grands Prix oozing tradition, run on proper “drivers’ tracks” with challenging layouts around which only the very best drivers shine.
Steeped in history and the very first race to be run as part of the Formula One World Championship in 1950, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone is very much a part of that list.
“It’s just unique: to race on the same track as Fangio, Clark, Stewart and Senna is cool, and you always feel the echoes of the past when you arrive at the circuit for the first time,” 2009 world champion and Briton Jenson Button said ahead of his home race.
“Even though it’s almost changed beyond recognition since 1950, and is now one of the best grand prix facilities in the world, it’s still lost none of that special atmosphere. I love it.”
Held for the most part at the extremely demanding and high-speed Silverstone circuit, but also at Brands Hatch and Aintree in years past, which are no less of a challenge to tackle, the British Grand Prix like most of the “classics” is one of those races where the best drivers thrive.
Jim Clark and Alain Prost, both multiple world champions, top the winners’ list with five British Grand Prix wins each. Next up with four wins is home hero Nigel Mansell, a darling of the British public and the focus of “Mansell-mania”, a term used to describe the fanatical support the Brummie received every time he drove in his home race.
In fact, the inspiration Mansell drew from his fans’ support saw him put in some of the best drives of his career on home soil.
“… When I crossed the finish line, the cheers from the grandstand drowned out the screaming Honda engine,” Mansell was quoted as saying in a 1995 biography co-authored by journalist James Allen, talking about that famous race in 1987 when he chased down team-mate Nelson Piquet before overtaking the Brazilian into Stowe just two laps from the end.
“The fans went berserk. It was an unashamedly emotional moment. There will never be another race in my whole career which will mean as much to me as this one.”
Following Mansell, on three wins are multiple champions Jack Brabham, Niki Lauda and Michael Schumacher, the German scoring his first British Grand Prix win in very controversial circumstances when he took victory in the pits as he came in to serve a stop-go penalty.
Alberto Ascari, Jose Froilan Gonzalez – who claimed Scuderia Ferrari’s first ever win in the 1951 British Grand Prix – Stirling Moss, Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jacques Villeneuve, David Coulthard, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber have won the race twice.
In fact, Alonso and Webber, the Grand Prix’s most recent winners, will both be gunning for their third win this weekend. Alonso desperately needs to breathe new life into his title challenge while Webber on the other hand will be driving a Formula One car for the last time around a venue he absolutely loves and in a race he considers his second home Grand Prix.
“It’s the home race for a lot of the team and it’s my second home race, as I live in the UK,” the Red Bull driver said ahead of the race.
“It’s an old school circuit, fast and flowing. It’s very demanding on the driver in terms of accuracy, and the car also. You can really let the car go around there and feel like you’re a Formula One driver.”
Feature image courtesy of Octane Photographics