English Summer Sports Series: The British Grand Prix

With the famous English summer hotting up, we’ve decided to start a mini-series with our blog by giving a synopsis of some of the most famous British sporting events in the national calendar and we’ve started with the British Grand Prix. 

Britain. Primarily the home of many of the world’s leading motorsport teams and it’s most well-known race track, Silverstone, is regarded as one of the oldest circuits in the world. Only two circuits, Monaco and Monza, have hosted more Formula 1 races. In fact, when the F1 world championship began in 1950 the aerodrome circuit, attended by King George VI, was an obvious choice for the inaugural race. The fast circuit provided an ideal venue as the previous oval track Brooklands was heavily bombed in World War II. It’s been synonymous with some famous victories none other than Ferrari’s first ever Grand Prix victory in 1951.

However, the race has not solely been held at Silverstone. From 1955 to 1963, it rotated every two years between Silverstone and Aintree. The latter of which is the site of the world-famous Grand National horse race, where Sterling Moss, arguably the most famous Formula One driver never to win the world title, won his first race on home soil. This rotation of venues continued with Silverstone and Brands Hatch from 1964 to 1986. It proved to be very popular with the drivers with its cambered corners and elevation changes contrasted Silverstone’s  flat, high-speed corners. The circuit ultimately held twelve rounds of the British Grand Prix and yielded some famous moments in Formula One history. One of them was between two of the sport’s most famous drivers – Austrian Ferrari driver Niki Lauda and British McLaren driver James Hunt. In the summer of 1976, a first corner collision and subsequent chaos led to the order being given to not allow Hunt to take the restart. In the melee, the crowd turned hostile and, on the brink of a riot, the organisers caved in and allowed Hunt to restart. The local hero sensationally won, only to be disqualified later following a complaint from Ferrari.

 

nigel-mansell-brands-hatch
Nigel Mansell en route to his famous 1985 victory, before F1 bid farewell from the circuit Credit: redbull.com

 

However, over the years, as the cars began approaching 1,000+ horsepower by the 1980’s and were lapping Brands Hatch in just over a minute, safety fears began to spread amongst the sporting officials. But before these concerns could materialise into any rules being implemented, politics played a hand in the demise of the famous little circuit. The sports governing body, Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA) introduced a policy in relation to venues wanting to host an F1 race and made it a rule so that any long-term contract can only be assigned to one circuit per Grand Prix. Since there was little room to expand the track for long term use, Silverstone was given the contract from 1987 onwards to host the British Grand Prix.

Silverstone evolved over the decades and at one point became the fastest circuit on the season calendar and was only slowed down by the addition of some slow corners after the tragic death of Ayrton Senna in 1994. In the 21st Century, the 2003 British Grand Prix was disrupted by a defrocked priest, Cornelius Horan, who ran onto the track during the race while cars were screaming towards him at 160+ mph. Marshals were able to get him off the track before he hurt himself or anyone else and he was later arrested. Since then up until now, the track has been in constant political strife between its owners and the sports governing body, the FIA, as to sourcing funds to consistently improve the long-term condition of the track.

 

lewis hamilton
Lewis Hamilton’s famous wet win at Silverstone in 2008.

 

In 2010, the circuit race saw a revised configuration and is still regarded as a very fast circuit- with average speeds up in the 145 mph range for Formula 1 cars; one of the highest average speeds on the F1 calendar.

Despite controversy plaguing the future of the race in recent years, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone remains one of the world’s most prestigious motor racing events. It is also probably the most highly attended Grand Prix in the calendar thanks to the success of British driver Lewis Hamilton.

Next week, we’ll be covering how the oldest major golf championships, The Open Championship, evolved into one of the most prestigious in the world.

 

 

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