Celebrating 60 years of Silverstone - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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Celebrating 60 years of Silverstone

03 Jul 2008
Celebrating 60 years of Silverstone
Silverstone staged its first motor race back in October 1948 and at this weekend’s British Grand Prix the English track will be marking its 60th anniversary. In honour of this special occasion, we delved into the archives to bring you a few highlights from the circuit’s last six decades…

- In 1943, in the midst of World War Two, Silverstone opened as an airfield to service Britain’s military needs. When peace was declared in 1945, the site was chosen by the Royal Automobile Club as a location to hold race meetings. At the time the lease was arranged the centre of the circuit was a working farm and it was farmer James Wilson Brown who was asked to create the track’s layout. Brown was given just two months to complete the build. Despite the short notice the circuit, which comprised the outer taxiways and interconnecting runways of the aerodrome, was challenging and widely acknowledged as a triumph.

- On October 2, 1948, Silverstone hosted its first-ever event, the RAC Grand Prix. Twenty three cars competed and the race’s winner was Luigi Villoresi in a Maserati. Villoresi recorded an average speed of 72 mph (116 km/h) to claim the £500 prize money. A year later, the runways were eliminated from the layout following safety concerns and the track took on a form which would be much more recognisable to today’s race goers. The second event to be held at Silverstone, the Formula One Daily Express International Trophy, was won by Alberto Ascari in May 1949.

- In 1950 the circuit joined the newly established Formula One world championship. The victor of that inaugural round was Giuseppe Farina for Alfa Romeo. Watching Farina’s victory from the sidelines were King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The race remains the only time a monarch has attended a British motor race.

- The following year Argentinean driver Jose Froilan Gonzalez beat Juan Manuel Fangio to win the race for Ferrari. The Italian marque would go on to dominate the event for the next three years with Gonzalez taking another victory (1954) and Ascari a further two (1952 and ’53). From the mid 1950s, the British Grand Prix alternated between Silverstone and the all-new Aintree circuit. The 1958 race was won by Ferrari’s Peter Collins, who became the first British Formula One driver to win their home event.

- Two years later the track was the scene of an epic battle between two of motor racing’s most famous names, Graham Hill and Jack Brabham. Hill stalled his BRM on the grid, eventually setting off in last place. After working his way up the field, the British driver wrestled the lead from the Australian on Lap 55 only to spin off five laps from the end, leaving Brabham free to take victory for Cooper.

- With Aintree dropped from the calendar after 1962, the British Grand Prix then alternated exclusively between Silverstone and Brands Hatch until the mid 1980s. In 1963 Scotland’s Jim Clark took the second of his four successive home wins at Silverstone. He would win again at the British track in 1965 and would also dominate the ’67 event, driving the groundbreaking new Ford V8-powered Lotus 49.

- Over the next 10 years British Grand Prix winners at Silverstone included several famous names including Jackie Stewart (1969/1970), Peter Revson (1973), Emerson Fittipaldi (1975) and James Hunt (1977). In 1975, Silverstone also made its first significant revisions since its inauguration as a motor racing circuit. In a bid to slow the cars down, a new chicane was added at Woodcote and a new pit complex was built.

- The 1979 Silverstone race saw the Williams team take their very first Grand Prix victory, with Clay Regazzoni the man behind the wheel. The British team have since won a further seven times at the track, making them the venue’s third most successful team, behind Ferrari on 12 and McLaren on 11.

- In 1981, Silverstone celebrated another home victory when John Watson took an emotional win for McLaren. Two years’ later Alain Prost would take a maiden victory for Renault at the circuit. Prost would win the race again in 1985 for McLaren. The ’85 race also saw Keke Rosberg set Formula One racing’s first-ever 160mph (257 km/h) lap in qualifying in the Williams-Honda.

- From 1987 onwards, Silverstone became the permanent home for the British Grand Prix. As a result of Rosberg’s pace the year before, however, more revisions were made to the circuit, with the Woodcote chicane replaced by a new complex. The event provided another home winner, with Nigel Mansell edging out Williams team mate Nelson Piquet. Mansell went on to win a total of four British Grands Prix during his Formula One career.

- The 1988 event saw very wet conditions and Ayrton Senna, competing in his maiden season, seized the opportunity to dominate the race and claim a superb win. In 1989, however, Senna was less lucky and after spinning out with gearbox problems his McLaren team mate Prost won the race. The Frenchman would win again in 1990.

- More rebuilding work took place ahead of the 1991 Grand Prix, with Becketts Corner replaced with a new series of esses and new complexes added at both Stowe and Club. Woodcote was again a target for the developers, where a new section introduced Bridge Corner and Luffield. The changes added around a quarter of a mile to the lap and significantly slowed the cars, although the circuit remained one of the calendar’s fastest.

- The new circuit certainly seemed to suit Mansell, who took successive victories in ’91 and ’92 for Williams. And although the British driver left to compete in America in 1993, Williams would continue to enjoy a winning streak at Silverstone, courtesy of Alain Prost. The Frenchman, who clinched a total of five wins at the circuit, remains the track’s most successful driver.

- After narrowly missing out on victory in 1993 following an engine problem, Damon Hill made amends in 1994 with an emotional win in the Williams, just weeks after the tragic demise of team mate Ayrton Senna at Imola. Another Brit was on the podium in ’95, with Johnny Herbert clinching a win for Benetton, following a controversial collision between Hill and Michael Schumacher.

- Williams resumed their winning ways in 1996 and 1997, thanks to two back-to-back victories for Jacques Villeneuve. But in 1998 Michael Schumacher took his maiden British Grand Prix triumph for Ferrari. A year later Schumacher was unable to repeat his victory, after breaking his leg when his F399 suffered a brake failure at Stowe. The race was won by Scottish driver David Coulthard for McLaren, who became the tenth British driver to score a win at the track.

- Coulthard was victorious again in 2000, but it was his team mate Mika Hakkinen who won for McLaren in 2001. The following year Schumacher celebrated his 60th Grand Prix victory at Silverstone, following a thrilling battle with McLaren’s Juan Pablo Montoya. Schumacher’s luck deserted him a year later, however, when he lost out following two safety car periods, the second of which was prompted by an errant spectator invading the track. With Schumacher out of the running, it was left to Ferrari team mate Rubens Barrichello to score an excellent win.

- Schumacher returned to the top of the Silverstone podium in 2004 for what would be his final victory at the British circuit. Montoya won for McLaren in 2005, while that season’s world champion Fernando Alonso was the winner in 2006. And it was Schumacher’s replacement Kimi Raikkonen who clinched victory for Ferrari last season.
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