Silverstone: Sun Sets On The History Of Formula One

Tom NikyadContributor IJune 22, 2009

This weekend see's the sun set on Silverstone as the home of the British GP, as plans continue to move the event to Donnington Park for the foreseeable future.

Other tracks exiting the championship include the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal and Magny-Cours in France in a trend that seems to be seeing off some of the most history drenched formula one venues of all time.

Taking their place are the latest wave of "Tilke-dromes" built in the regions with the highest budgets and populations, combined with the highest quality facilities. These venues are built on man made islands and oil soaked deserts in the middle of nowhere, running through multi-million dollar Five star hotels and the streets of the worlds most exotic cities.

These tracks however are missing vital ingredients that can't be purchased by a wealthy prince or powerful government; history and soul.

Sure, give these tracks a few years or even decades on the calender and they will no doubt amass a rich history full of great formula one moments, but they will nonetheless be great "modern" formula one moments.

The advancement of technology has, whether we like it or not, stolen a piece of formula one's soul. Long gone are the elements of surprise and the unknown because if these factors appear in a formula one team these days, then their employees are not doing their jobs properly. 

Formula one needs tracks like Silverstone because unlike the cars, the teams, the drivers, and the fans who have all evolved with the advances of technology and the monetary political power game that has become formula one, these tracks have remained relatively the same since the days that Ascari, Fangio, Brabham, Clarke, Stewart, Prost, Mansell, and Senna were greeted with the checkered flag.

These tracks remind us of a time when formula one was only about the racing, and this is a time that the future will unfortunately never repeat.

Classic tracks keep the history and soul in formula one at a time where every other aspect of the sport is being modernized. Silverstone is a track with a hell of a lot of history and soul.

On May 13, 1950 Giussppe Farina claimed victory in Silverstone at the first ever FIA Formula One world championship race in an all conquering Alfa Romeo that eventually delivered him the crown of the first ever drivers world champion.

Since then Silverstone has produced some of the greatest and most dramatic formula one races in history.

The race in 1960 will be remembered as the race that Graham Hill lost, rather than the one Jack Brabham won. After stalling his BRM on the starting grid, Hill commenced the race from dead last and then proceeded to carve through the entire field and eventually take the lead from Brabham on lap 55.

Five laps from the finish however, the breaks failed on Hill's machine thus destroying his chance at victory for BRM. A victory that Hill would have to wait another two years to achieve.

The race of 1962 is regarded as the first ever "Silverstone type finish," when Jim Clarke in his Lotus 24 seemed certain of a win over Hill's BRM. In a time where the "old" woodcote corner was just before the finish, overtaking could go down to the very last second, and it did.

On the final lap Clarke carved his way past a couple of back markers and came through abbey to what he thought was victory. Hill however had been hurtling through the field behind and commenced through Woodcote almost sideways, drawing even with an astonished Clarke and taking victory in what looked like a photo finish.

Other memorable results at Silverstone in the 1960's include Clarke's fuel saving victory of 1963, his domination of the 1967 event in the trend setting ford v8-powered lotus 49, and the 1969 fifth place of Brabham in a privately prepared car entered by one Frank Williams.

The 1970's produced victories by Regazzoni, Watson, Hunt, Fittipaldi, and Stewart in 1971 on his way to world title number two of three.

This era will also be remembered for the extensive changes made to the world famous "old" Woodcote corner, that due to the increasing speed of formula one cars had become the high speed corner of the championship.

Stewart was quoted as saying, "It was without doubt one of the most important corners of the F1 world. In the early '70's, you could come in Woodcote and—if there was no wind, track conditions were perfect and the car was really well set up—it was suggested you could take it absolutely flat in top gear at speeds above 160 mph."

This theory did not reign true for Jody Scheckter in 1973 who span off at the corner and caused one of the most spectacular multiple car pile-ups in F1 history.

The 1980's ushered in a new era of hero's such as Prost, Mansell, and Senna. It also introduced major mechanical and technological advancements with the domination of turbo power—a technology that many said would not work. This decade also produced one of the greatest ever victories at Silverstone.

In 1981, Silverstone celebrated another home victory, this time through John Watson who survived a race of attrition to take an emotional victory.

The race of 1983 was a major milestone as Prost Won the British GP and his Renault became the first turbo powered car to do so.

The true height of the turbo era came in 1985 when qualifying crowds watched in astonishment as Keke Rosberg achieved Formula One's first ever 160 mph lap with a slow tire puncture.

And perhaps even greater evidence to support the statement that formula one cars were much faster than ever before, cars were now taking Woodcote faster with the new chicane than when the chicane was not even there. 

Due to this, drastic changes were deemed necessary before the 1987 event in order to cut speeds and the early months of the year saw the most drastic changes to the circuit since 1949 and once again Woodcote was signaled out for attention with the chicane being replaced by a sharp left-hander before the famous corner.

The year of 1987 will be remembered by F1 fans for arguably the greatest British GP ever, when local hero Nigell Mansell beat teammate and fierce rival Nelson Piquet.

Piquet started the race from pole position and lead the race from the off with Mansell stuck on his tail. On lap 35 Mansell dived into the pits for a type change in an attempt to cure an annoying vibration in his car.

Mansell assumed Piquet would also have to pit, but the Brazilian had a different strategy and decided to try and stay out for the remainder of the race by conserving his tires as his lead at this stage was quite large.

Mansell had no other option but to charge after Piquet like a maniac. With 16 laps to go Piquet had what looked to be an insurmountable lead of 16.8 seconds over the other Williams-Honda of Mansell. Mansell however proceeded to take large chunks out of Piquets lead (more than a second per lap) until eventually with only five laps remaining, Piquets once gargantuan lead had been whittled down to only 1.6 seconds. 

The crowd went wild as Mansell, slip streaming Piquet down hangar straight with two laps to go, faked left and then dived right to pass Piquet going down into Stowe corner. To an epic reception, Mansell went on to win the race by 1.9 seconds and ran out of fuel on his victory lap, setting off a massive track invasion by overjoyed British fans.

The following years of 1988 and 1989 also produced memorable victories by Ayrton Senna in his first championship year showing off his impeccable wet weather skills by dominating the race in monsoon-like conditions, and by Prost for McLaren after then teammate Senna span out with a gearbox issue at Becketts.

The 1990's ushered in more major changes to the layout of the Silverstone circuit such as the the all new Becketts sequence, the vale link between Stowe and Club, the plunging bridge bend, and the infield loop at priory. All changes were given a universal thumbs up by both drivers and spectators.

This certainly proved to be the case with Nigell Mansell who took back to back wins in the 1991 and 1992 events.

Further changes then came in June of 1994 in the aftermath of the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenburger at Imola.

One month later Damon Hill made up for the disappointment of his retirement in the 1993 race, doing what his father could not by notching an emotional home win in 1994. Disappointment for Hill returned in the 1995 race after again retiring, this time due to a tangle with Michael Schumacher while dicing for the lead. Johnny Herbert took victory.

The following years saw Williams improve on its already impressive record at Silverstone with Jaques Villeneuve taking out the 1996 and 1997 events. Micheal Schumacher then broke his curse at the venue by achieving a dominating victory in 1998. However 12 months later the German broke his leg at the race following a break failure at Stowe.

The decade then ended on a high note for local fans in 1999 when David Coulthard triumphed in his McLaren.

The 21st century started as the previous one had ended, with David Coulthard taking his second victory in a row in 2000. Following that were victories by a group including five world champions: Hakkinen, Schumacher, Barrichello, Montoya, Alonso, Raikonnen, and Lewis Hamilton in arguably one of the greatest wet weather drives in the history of the sport which resulted in him dominating the race and winning by over a minute.

Yesterday Sebastian Vettel took victory at what seems to be the last formula one race staged at Silverstone. Since 1950 Silverstone has followed the the formula one world championship in its progression through the ages and produced some of the greatest moments in the history of the sport.

For the past couple of decades Silverstone has reminded us what formula one is all about amidst ever growing political power struggles within, and the ever increasing grab for cash. It is this which has now resulted in the demise of one of the most famous races on the calender.

In 50 years will someone be able to write a similar article about the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi? No, because the history at Silverstone is too unique, and due to the direction the sport is heading in, history will not repeat itself elsewhere.



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