British Classic Culture: Is Silverstone the Hub of Classic British Motoring?
Silverstone Classic is the world’s biggest classic motor racing festival. The event thrums with history, drawing classics fans from all over the world for a taste of the golden years of motoring. In the blazing heat of last summer, 1,113 enthusiasts raced in 20 races. 90,000 spectators lined the grand stands. Over the course of just three days, eight decades of motor sporting legends were revived, their lost glory once more put on display, both on the track and up-close. To the strains of Bonnie Tyler and Aerosmith these legendary motors raced again.
The Silverstone Classic is often hailed as the greatest classic motoring event in the world, and the track where it plays out is a fundamental part of its charm and popularity, for Silverstone itself is living history, a Mecca for motoring fans the world over. Classic car events across Britain are based around Silverstone, the place where history is made, year-after-year-after-year. So what is it that helped cement Silverstone’s place at the heart of British motoring?
The Best of Silverstone
Silverstone is a place where tradition and modernity combine. Every year, the venue sees a glittering cavalcade of vintage motors roar down its legendary track. It sees, as well, cars which are only just beginning their journey into the hallowed hall of motoring fame. In 2014, Silverstone celebrates its 50th grand prix, and it will celebrate with the biggest ever grand prix parade.
Stirling Moss is a part of the track’s legend, and this year he will lead the battalion of once-glorious grand prix cars on another, deserved lap of honour. Speaking on the track, he said: “Silverstone is a wonderful place with a rich history. In my day, it really was a fast and challenging circuit with some extremely demanding corners.”
So let’s take a look at those early days, and the most significant grand prix milestones at the famous Northants track.
Silverstone first played host to the British Grand Prix on October 2nd 1948, when it hosted the RAC Grand Prix. Twenty-three cars were entered and competed in the race, which was won by Luigi Villoresi driving a Maserati. The car recorded an average speed of 72 mph, fast enough for its driver to claim the £500 prize money.
In 1950, Silverstone became a part of the newly established Formula One World Championship. The winner of the inaugural round was Alfa Romeo’s Giuseppe Farina.
In 1951, Argentinian Jose Froilan Gonzalez defeated Juan Manuel Fangio to take the win for Ferrari. The Italian team dominated the event for the next three years, with Ascari taking the 1952 and 1953 victories, and Gonzalez winning again in 1954.
A Place in the History Books
1958 saw Peter Collins win for Ferrari at Silverstone. The victory marked the first time a British Formula One driver had been victorious at their home grand prix.
An Epic Battle
In 1960, Silverstone was the battleground for an epic struggle between two of the greatest names in the history of motor racing: Graham Hill and Jack Brabham. The action-packed race saw Hill stall his BRM on the grid and fall to last place, before wrestling the lead from Australian Brabham on the fifty-fifth lap, before spinning off five laps from the finish, handing Brabham the victory.
The Domination of Jim Clark
In 1963, Scotsman Jim Clark took the second of four successive home wins at Silverstone.
A Succession of Famous Winners
Over the course of the next 10 years, several legendary names claimed victory at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, including Jackie Stewart in 1969 and 1970, Peter Revson in 1973, Emerson Fittipaldi in 1975 and James Hunt in 1977.
In the race of 1979, Williams took their very first Grand Prix win, steered to victory by Clay Regazzoni. The British team now has a record seven wins at Silverstone, making them the venue’s third most successful team (behind Ferrari with 12 wins and McLaren with 11).
Notable Feats 1980-1985
The first half of the 80s saw a succession of notable victories and happenings. In 1981, John Watson claimed another British home victory driving in a McLaren. Two years later, the track saw Alain Prost claim his maiden victory with Renault. Prost won again in 1985, this time for McLaren. On the same weekend that Prost took the win, Keke Rosberg set Formula One’s first ever 160 mph lap in qualifying in a Willaims-Honda.
Silverstone Becomes a Permanent Fixture and Sees another Home Win
In 1987, Silverstone became the permanent home of the British Grand Prix. The race created another home winner in the form of Nigel Mansell, who beat his Williams’ team mate Nelson Piquet to take victory. Over the course of his racing career, Mansell went on to win a total of four British Grands Prix.
Ayrton Senna Starts Making Waves
The race of 1988 was dominated by extremely wet conditions. Ayrton Senna, competing in his maiden season, took advantage of the ensuing chaos to claim a superb victory.
The Domination of Nigel Mansell
Mansell set the new and improved circuit on fire in the early 90s, claiming successive victories at the track in 1991 and 1992 in his Williams car.
After narrowly losing out in 1993 after an engine problem, 1994 saw Damon Hill dominate the race, taking an emotional win in his Williams car just a few weeks after the sad demise of team mate Ayrton Senna.
The Revival of Williams’ Supremacy
In 1996 and 1997, Williams were back to their winning ways with consecutive victories from Jacques Villeneuve.
Michael Schumacher Takes Victory in Britain
1998 saw seven times Formula One World Champion Michael Schumacher take his first British Grand Prix victory, driving for Ferrari.
Another British Winner
Michael Schumacher had to sit out the following year’s race after breaking his leg when his F399 experienced a brake failure at Stowe. Scottish driver David Coulthard won the race for McLaren, becoming the 10th British driver to win at the track. Coulthard was once again victorious in 2000.
Schumacher’s 60th Victory
Silverstone was home to Michael Schumacher’s 60th Grand Prix victory, taken after a hard-fought battle with McLaren’s Juan Pablo Montoya. Schumacher returned to the top of the Silverstone podium in 2004 to take his final victory at the British circuit.
2006 World Champion Fernando Alonso claimed the win at Silverstone in the year of his victory, adding valuable points to his tally.
Silverstone: Where Champions are Made
Silverstone has hosted some of the greatest Formula One victories of all time. It’s a site where champions have been made and where champions have fallen, so it’s only proper that it should also play host to those legendary motors which have entered the vehicular hall of fame over the years, for it is here that many of their stories began. The Silverstone Classic, with its three massive grids, featuring more than 100 iconic Grand Prix cars from over seven decades, showcases more grand prix history than any other event in the world – and that is only fitting. Silverstone is the hub of motoring in Britain, so it is right that it should be at the heart of showcasing British motoring’s true legends.
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