Silverstone is a quiet, medium sized village in Northamptonshire, England. It has a population of approximately 2,000 people, yet once a year it is home to over 100,000 F1 loving fans. The masses descend upon the village usually in late June or early July and this is where any shop, post office, hotel, or B&B in the village increases its weekly turnover 50 fold come pay day.
Silverstone circuit is built on an old World War II bomber base, RAF Silverstone. The airfield's three classic runways in triangle formation can still be seen from a bird’s eye view of the circuit. It was built in 1943 and then five years later was awarded the British Grand Prix for the very first time in 1948.
It’s been regularly the home of the British GP but it hasn’t always been a permanent fixture, sharing the spoils with Brands Hatch and Aintree. Yes, you heard me right, Aintree, the place where horses will more commonly be seen racing in the current day. However, Silverstone has been a permanent fixture since 1987.
Did you know? - Silverstone has the honour of being the track in the first-ever race of the first-ever World Championship back in 1950.
So where does it all begin? Well we have already said: 1948, where Luigi Villoresi won the British GP in his Maserati after 65 grueling laps in a time of three hours, 18 minutes, and three seconds, with a fastest lap of two minutes and 52 seconds.
Can you imagine modern F1 races lasting that long nowadays? It would be more like an endurance race in the current conditions, with drivers passing out all over the track. Luckily, Health and Safety laws prevent races from going on any longer than two hours to stop this from happening.
Silverstone underwent a heavy modification in 1991, and a lot of the top end speed was removed from it when the Becketts, Vale, Priory, and Luffield corners where amended/modified. Back in the '80s the lap record was held by Keke Rosberg (Nico’s Dad), and that time was nailed by going round the lap at an average speed of 160.92mph (258.98 kmph).
Just as an indication to how much the track has changed—during Lewis Hamilton’s fastest lap time in the three-day test session last week, his average speed worked out at 145.57 mph (234.27 kmph).
There is roughly a 15 mph difference in average speeds, and that’s what those four little corners change it by. That was one of the reasons the drivers used to love Silverstone so much, for its fast, free-flowing corners.
Now it is loved for different reasons.
Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) – "It’s one of the best circuits on the calendar - a real driver’s circuit. Its super-fast - the first half of the circuit doesn’t require any braking at all, just little lifts and shifts down through the gears. In fact, you need to watch the brake temperatures don’t drop too low because you’re not using them for much of the lap. Where else can you experience that? Formula One just wouldn’t be the same without Silverstone - it’s become a British phenomenon."
Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber) – "Over the main entrance to Silverstone there’s a sign saying ‘Home of British Motor Racing’, and that really sums up the atmosphere here. This classic track has stayed true to its roots. It really has character, which I like. There are a lot of great high-speed sections, and some memorable corners and combinations like Stowe, Copse and Beckets. Also, you can always count on the British spectators to create a special atmosphere. The British fans are really into racing; they’re very informed and enthusiastic. I hope we can put on a good show for them."
Mario Thiessen (BMW Sauber Motorsport Director) – "Silverstone is a classic date on the racing calendar, and it attracts a special calibre of fan. A lot of the racing enthusiasts who come here are less concerned with the personalities and the show side of things and more interested in the sport itself."
So lets go for a drive around Silverstone—take a seat, put on your helmet, and buckle your safety harness, this will be one hell of a drive.
We are sitting on the start/finish line waiting for the lights. Here we go. One light, the crowd roars. Two lights, three, four, five lights. Engine up to rev limit, launch control is on, the lights go out, and we are racing.
My foot is heavy to the floor, shifting up the gears and getting as much of my opponents in my rear view mirrors as I possibly can. We are approaching the first corner at Copse. We are not up to full speed for this corner, so it needs to be judged slightly differently.
Next time round on a flying lap we will hit a peak of 294 kmph (seventh gear) on the straight and then for the corner we will be going into the apex at 270 kmph (seventh gear), swing it in nicely under 5G of braking, clip the apex, and the foot goes back down again.
After a short straight we will hit five corners in quick succession, where not much braking will be done but we will shift down in gears and lift off the throttle.
Corners two and three are Maggots corner, a left then right hander taken at 297 kmph (1.48G) and 291 kmph (3.68G), respectively.
After that Beckets corner. Turns four and five are a left then a right, which is a bit tighter and taken at 249 kmph (5G) and 211 kmph (3.89G). The crowd in the Becketts grandstand erupts as I drive past it. Finally, Chapel corner is a longer left-hand corner taken in fifth gear at 252 kmph (1.79G).
After we clip the apex at Chapel we are foot to the floor for the fastest part of the track, the Hangar Straight. We will be going downhill, hitting a top speed on the track of 301 kmph. We see the three separate stands of Stowe corner as we pass the Hanger grandstand.
No sooner do we hear the crowd at Hanger then we are downshifting and braking for the Stowe corner, turn seven, a right-hander at just under 200 kmph. In fourth gear we hit 2.92G at the apex and accelerate out.
We drive a short straight towards the Vale and Club corners, hitting 275 kmph on the way before the slowest corner on the track. Vale, turn eight, is taken in second gear at only 95 kmph. The grandstands on the club corner light up from camera flashes as they see you're coming in the distance. Apex nine and 10 on the Club corner are taken in fourth gear at 226 kmph, picking up all the way round towards the straight pulling 3.2G.
Out of Club we are shifting up and accelerating up to 288 kmph, top gear past all the crowds in the general admission terracing, waving Union Jacks and St. Georges Cross flags. They are cheering and taking pictures that probably won’t turn out, I am going too fast.
It's foot down hard on the brakes as we hit Abbey corner. We shift down to third gear and drop the car down to 133 kmph. It’s a quick left-hander before turn 12 (Farm corner), taking you right onto the laps of the fans in the stands there.
As we look right after hitting the apex we can see the bridge below us. Downhill we go hitting 251 kmph, and the track goes slightly darker as we go under the bridge. We emerge the other side going slightly uphill, and as we emerge we become visible to the Luffield tiered seating stands. The crowd erupts as you hit turn 13 at 264 kmph.
Another short climb to turn 14, Priory corner. In fifth gear at 212 kmph we see the back of the pit complex. The crowd is so loud I can actually hear them over the top of my screeching engine as it turns out 19,000 revs as I approach turn 15, Brooklands.
Brooklands is the second slowest corner on the track, so we take it as careful as we can. My tyres are carrying heat but no cars have been on that part of the circuit since this morning’s GP2 race. I don’t want to overcook it on Lap 1 and end up in the deep gravel. It’s only a short walk back to pits, but on Lap 1 that’s embarrassing.
As we hit the apex we are in second gear and doing 96 kmph, the size of the Luffield grandstand is bang in our visor but then focus shifts to the next apex.
Accelerating up to 172kmph before throwing out the anchors at turn 16, two apex to hit here and the idea is to carry as much speed out before we put the car right on line to the home straight. Turn 17 is a slight right-hander, straightening up all the way round to become the home straight.
Over the finish line, only 59 to go..."B*llocks I need the toilet, I hope it doesn’t rain!"
So there you have it, Lap 1 of the British Grand Prix. Hope you enjoyed it. I didn’t go too fast for you did I?
Did you know? - In 1965, the chase scene in the 38th minute of the James Bond film "Thunderball" was filmed at Silverstone.
Silverstone, as you can imagine, is steeped with history, whether it be highs or lows. A living memory from my childhood is recalling a certain Nigel Mansell winning his home GP in 1992, a Williams 1-2. What a great day that was. Senna’s car riddled with problems, Jean Alesi with problems, and the Benetton-Fords of Schumacher and Brundle where just no match for the Williams-Renault of Mansell and Patrese, taking a 1-2 for the constructor.
I was 10 and I can remember being very excited.
Facts about my favourite British GP - 1992 (Sourced by wikipedia.org)
- This was the last race of the season that the Williams team finished first and second.
- After Nigel Mansell won his home Grand Prix, the British spectators invaded the race track to congratulate their hero. Mansell's car was blocked by the crowd, preventing him from driving back to the pits. Eventually Mansell was returned to the pits by track marshals to attend the podium ceremony.
- Damon Hill made his debut here for the Brabham team.
- Ayrton Senna retired his McLaren from fourth place due to transmission failure on lap 52. Coincidentally, his car stopped at the same spot when he had run out of fuel in the 1991 British Grand Prix and had been classified fourth.
- Senna's chance of winning the driver's championship was effectively gone after Mansell won this race.
- Gerhard Berger's McLaren had an engine failure in the closing stages of the race and he just managed to finish fifth, right behind Michael Schumacher's Benetton.
As I am sure you all agree, it was a race crammed with significant turns in fate, a classic in anyone’s book for those who can remember it. Yet here we are facing what could be Silverstone’s last race in 2009.
The FIA is unenthusiastic to work alongside race promoters BRDC (British Racing Drivers Club), and it has been stated that Mr. Ecclestone will not work alongside them if further negotiations are to take place for future races.
Bernie Ecclestone – "I want to deal with a promoter rather than the BRDC. It is too difficult with the BRDC because you get no guarantees with them. We've said that unless they can get the circuit to the level expected from so-called Third-World countries, we are not prepared to do a deal. They know what we want them to build. A new pit-and-paddock complex is the minimum redevelopment required."
It just so happens that planning permission has been granted to allow such a thing to happen. The proposal plans to move the pit straight from in-between Woodcote and Copse to a new location between Club and Abbey. It will be completely re-developed and hopefully secure the Silverstone British Grand Prix for many years to come. I want to be able to take my children there for their first F1 experience, so here’s hoping that the job is a good one.
See below a list of winners or the Silverstone British GP in F1. It’s something to be proud of for a driver, and numerous Brits have had the pleasure of being victorious in front of their home crowd.
We Brits have had generous pickings at Silverstone over the years, including wins from David Coulthard (1999, 2000), Johnny Herbert (1995), Damon Hill (1994), Nigel Mansell (1987, 1991, 1992), John Watson (1981), James Hunt (1977), Jackie Stewart (1969, 1971), Jim Clark (1963, 1965, 1967) and Peter Collins (1958).
- 2007 - Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari
- 2006 - Fernando Alonso, Renault
- 2005 - Juan Pablo Montoya, McLaren
- 2004 - Michael Schumacher, Ferrari
- 2003 - Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari
- 2002 - Michael Schumacher, Ferrari
- 2001 - Mika Hakkinen, McLaren
- 2000 - David Coulthard, McLaren
- 1999 - David Coulthard, McLaren
- 1998 - Michael Schumacher, Ferrari
- 1997 - Jacques Villeneuve, Williams
- 1996 - Jacques Villeneuve, Williams
- 1995 - Johnny Herbert, Benetton
- 1994 - Damon Hill, Williams
- 1993 - Alain Prost, Williams-Renault
- 1992 - Nigel Mansell, Williams-Renault
- 1991 - Nigel Mansell, Williams-Renault
- 1990 - Alain Prost, Ferrari
- 1989 - Alain Prost, McLaren-Honda
- 1988 - Ayrton Senna, McLaren-Honda
- 1987 - Nigel Mansell, Williams-Honda
- 1985 - Alain Prost, McLaren-TAG
- 1983 - Alain Prost, Renault
- 1981 - John Watson, McLaren-Cosworth
- 1979 - Clay Regazzoni, Williams-Cosworth
- 1977 - James Hunt, McLaren-Cosworth
- 1975 - Emerson Fittipaldi, McLaren-Cosworth
- 1973 - Peter Revson, McLaren-Cosworth
- 1971 - Jackie Stewart, Tyrrell-Cosworth
- 1969 - Jackie Stewart, Matra-Cosworth
- 1967 - Jim Clark, Lotus-Ford
- 1965 - Jim Clark, Lotus-Climax
- 1963 - Jim Clark, Lotus-Climax
- 1960 - Jack Brabham, Cooper-Climax
- 1958 - Peter Collins, Ferrari
- 1956 - Juan-Manuel Fangio, Lancia-Ferrari
- 1954 - Jose Froilan Gonzalez, Ferrari
- 1953 - Alberto Ascari, Ferrari
- 1952 - Alberto Ascari, Ferrari
- 1951 - Jose Froilan Gonzalez, Ferrari
- 1950 - Giuseppe Farina, Alfa Romeo
- 1949 - Emmanuel de Graffenried, Maserati (Not part of World Championship)
- 1948 - Luigi Villoresi, Maserati (Not part of World Championship)
So who next? Most would say that Lewis Hamilton is our best bet for a Brit win at home, but you can’t ever write off David Coulthard. And of course you can't count out Jensen Button either, maybe not this year but next year, especially when the Honda has more pace.
So there you go, a bit of a brief insight into the history of Silverstone. Not a fully comprehensive guide by any means, but it’s enough to get you guys by come race weekend. Just little snippets of information will come back to you every now and again, and you will be glad I told you—you will be just as well equipped as James Allen (not that it would be hard of course, ha ha!).
Hope you enjoyed my little insight and please leave your scores and comments. Great stuff.
Ben, Over and Out!
PS – Don’t forget to keep checking www.benauty.co.uk for updates of last week’s testing session photos, should have them online REALLY soon now. Sorry for delay.