Silverstone is the legendary home of British Grand Prix, but like many of Britain’s racetracks, it sprung up from humble beginnings as an abandoned airfield. RAF Silverstone was a Royal Air Force bomber station and its three runways formed a perfect triangle from which to mould a racetrack. The runways were originally used to generate high speed straights and, along with its challenging perimeter road corners, one of the world’s most famous racetracks was born. In 2014, it celebrates its 50th British Grand Prix.
The first races there in the late ‘40s were informal events that used bales of hay and ropes to mark out the track, with the first race being labelled the ‘Mutton Grand Prix’ after a sheep was killed running onto the track, writing off one of the cars in the process. By the end of the Second World War, Britain’s premier racing circuits, Brooklands and Donnington, were damaged largely beyond repair, so the Royal Automobile Club adopted Silverstone as the venue for their future Grand Prix and set out a better organised and permanent circuit.
On 2nd October 1948 SIlverstone hosted its first official race: the RAC Grand Prix. The circuit still used oil barrels and bales of hay to mark out the track and was still largely based around the old airport perimeter road and the three runways. Ropes and more hay bales kept the 100,000 strong crowd at bay whilst also protecting the piggery and farmers’ crops in the centre of the circuit.
In May 1949, Silverstone held its first official British Grand Prix and the track was substantially revised for the event. This time the runways were not included in the circuit, creating a shape that was recognisable as the Silverstone circuit until 2009.
The track made full use of the perimeter road with the inclusion of a chicane at Club Corner. The circuit was now exactly three miles long and with the race consisting of 100 laps it became the longest post-WW2 Grand Prix in the UK.
The next major changes to the circuit occurred for the 1949 International Trophy meeting, which saw the removal of the chicane at Club. This layout was maintained through until 1950 when Silverstone was selected as the venue for the first ever race in the newly formed Formula 1 world championship.
1952 saw the start line move from the Farm Straight to sit between the Woodcote and Copse corners – this was a layout that would remain largely intact for the next 38 years.
In 1971, the British Racing Drivers’ Club purchased the land on which Silverstone had been developed and made a few changes to the circuit. A new chicane was inserted into the Woodcote corner and brand new pits were installed. Further changes occurred to Woodcote corner in 1987 but with the incredible speeds that new F1 cars were attaining, drastic changes to the circuit were about to be made.
In 1992, modifications to the circuit made Silverstone a far more technical course. To reduce speeds on Farm Straight, Woodcote was completely reprofiled with a number of new corners, named Bridge, Priory, Brooklands and Luffield. Changes were also made to the other side of the circuit creating the now famous Maggotts/Becketts/Chapel snaking sequence.
After Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger were killed at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, more changes were implemented in order to protect F1 drivers. At Silverstone, the entry from Hangar Straight into Stowe Corner was considered to be too dangerous and was eventually altered to make it less challenging for the drivers (although this was altered again in 1996 to take the speeds back up). In 1994 a chicane was introduced at Abbey corner to again reduce speeds into Farm Straight but also to increase the difficulty of the track.
In 2010 Silverstone, underwent its most radical changes since 1949. The whole of the Abbey and Bridge sections of the track were taken inwards towards Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel, drastically improving the viewing experience for spectators and providing completely new driving experiences.
Silverstone also stated that this change was necessary to accommodate the fastest motorbikes in the world after it picked up the Moto GP contract. The 800m straight was named the Wellington Straight, and new curves were introduced including Farm Curve, Village, the Loop and Aintree.
These final changes have left Silverstone ready to continue hosting some of the world’s most prestigious sporting events without losing any of the speed and challenges that made Silverstone world famous in the first place.
Watch all the action from Silverstone Circuit,the home of British Motor Racing and UK’s premier motorsport venue.
For more information, please visit www.silverstone.co.uk.
Image courtesy of Octane Photographic.