A Celebration of an Iconic Track

On its 70th Grand Prix anniversary, Silverstone is vibrant as ever

Few tracks around the world have seen so many historic racing victories, legendary drivers battle, incredible iconic race cars, and multiple changes in design and overall layout. Rather than a short article, one wants to write a book about Silverstone – better yet, an encyclopedia.

This mythical track is the rightful home of the British Grand Prix. But beyond hosting national and international F1 Championship races, Silverstone has also hosted Formula 2, Formula 3, European Formula 5000, Formula 3000, World Sportscars, FIA GT, Blancpain, Endurance Cup, Touring, Deutsche Tourenwagen, and Road Racing, as well as MotoGP and endless historic racing competitions.

The circuit was a RAF bomber station with an airfield laid out in a classic WWII triangle format. Photo: Getty.

The circuit started life as a Royal Air Force bomber station, with an airfield laid out in a classic World War II triangle format. The story of how the track came into being – like so often in motorsport lore – is that it was driven by the pure passion of racing enthusiasts.

The RAF's Red Arrows Aerobatic team over Silverstone at the British F1 Grand Prix, July 2016. Photo: Peter C. Bennett / Alamy.

The very first use as a track can be traced back to the initiative of a dozen friends in the late summer of 1947. Living nearby, Maurice Geoghegan was aware that the airfield was deserted. So he and his eleven neighborhood buddies figured it would be an ideal location to set up a two-mile motor racing circuit. After the long years of war and not much racing taking place anywhere in Europe, let alone in England, these old-school gear-heads could not wait to once again create some motorsport excitement. And exciting it was! A sheep wandered into the unauthorized, make-shift path, fatefully too late for Maurice to avoid during the race. The unfortunate sheep lost its life and Maurice his car — and so this informal race became forever known as the “Mutton Grand Prix.”

Graham Hill drives his BRM P48 into the pits at Silverstone, May 1960. Photo: GP Library Limited.

But the word was out within the racing community and all were excited by the idea that this could become a great track. So much so that less than a year later, the esteemed Royal Automobile Club took out a lease on the premises with the aim to establish a formal circuit. While in the beginning the actual runways would be used, separating the long straights by sharp hairpins in the center of the “X,” soon the perimeter track was utilized, which started to give Silverstone its iconic shape.  The same year, the first official British Grand Prix after the war took place. And in 2020, the latest deal has just been finalized that will secure Silverstone’s hosting of the British Grand Prix well into its eighth decade.

Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas during qualifying of the 70th Anniversary F1 British Grand Prix. Photo: PA Images.

Due to the nature of having been an airfield, the track was very flat with many long straights and therefore incredibly fast. So fast that over the years more and more corners and chicanes had to be introduced in order to slow down Formula 1 cars that kept piling on speed in lockstep with modern technology advancements. Today, F1-car engineering can be compared to rocket science.

1962 Aston Martin DP214 project race car at the 1996 Coys International festival. Photo: Goddard Archive.

The one-off F1 70th Anniversary Grand Prix took place in early August to both honor and celebrate Silverstone’s amazing history. In this race, Max Verstappen, driving for Red Bull Racing, defeated Mercedes drivers Hamilton and Bottas, to become the first non-Mercedes driver to win in 2020. At the same time, it was also Red Bull’s first win at Silverstone since 2012. Silverstone has always delivered on surprises – although without an errant sheep on the track this year.

Silverstone flag flying proudly over Northamptonshire. Photo: Getty.

To get a real feel for how the track was mastered by the classic GT racers of the 1960s, watch the documentary film below and experience it from the drivers’ seats of the legendary Aston Martin DP214, piloted by David Clark, director of McLaren Cars during the McLaren F1 era, and the famous Austin-Healey DD300.

We also invite you to follow our GT RACER film series and experience the excitement of racing on some of the world’s most famous tracks.