If you are a fan of motorsport in the UK then the chances are Silverstone has a special place in your heart. We recently took a trip to the Northamptonshire circuit ahead of this weekend’s Formula 1 World Championship race to soak up some of the magic of circuit and tried to find out what makes it so special.
Silverstone has a special place in racing history and in the hearts of the Great British racing fans. The self-proclaimed ‘Home of British racing’ was a former RAF bomber station. First used for motorsport by an ad hoc group of friends who set up an impromptu race in September 1947. One of their members, Maurice Geoghegan, lived in nearby Silverstone village and was aware that the airfield was deserted. He and eleven other drivers raced over a two mile circuit, during the course of which Geoghegan himself ran over a sheep that had wandered onto the airfield. The sheep was killed and the car written off, and in the aftermath of this event the informal race became known as the Mutton Grand Prix.
A lot has changed, Silverstone was the home of the inaugural Formula One World Championship race in 1950 and after a chequered history, splitting its duties with Aintree and Brands Hatch, and The World Championship was permanently relocated to Silverstone in 1987. This coming Sunday sees the 2013 British Gran Prix being hosted once again at Silverstone which promises to be as exciting and as nervous for the British fans as ever!
By the time that you’ve arrived at the circuit, the chances are you’ve already had your head turned a few times by some of the auto-erotica that seems to be pulled by a magical gravitational force to the track. Once you get passed the friendly security staff, the first thing that hits you is the scale, this is not uncommon to most racing circuits, but in every direction there is something to look at such as the numerous stands or the glorious new pits & paddock complex, coming in at around £27million pounds!
Before you’ve had chance to take in all the visual aspects or even get a glimpse of the track, the next thing to hit you will be the noise! And what a noise! Throughout the year, Silverstone has a range of open sessions for privateers and members of the public (usually with pretty deep pockets) offering the chance to take your own race-spec vehicles out for a spin around the historic track. To avoid conflict and pretty heavy traffic jams, they are usually kept to defined ‘classes’ and we we’re in for a few treats whilst we were there.
After taking a tour around the inner-ring of the circuit, which is more akin to a music festival with designated camping areas and a plethora of mini events dotted around the grounds, we decided to take a walk around the ‘old’ paddocks that hide just to the right of the Hangar straight. Whereas the British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC) are no-doubt doing a fine job of re-developing the complex, of which there are continual phases to ensure the British leg of the F1 World Championship remain at Silverstone long after the 17 year contract terminates, the heart and soul of Silverstone still resides in the more historical parts of the track.
In the paddocks we found some beautiful machines being tended to like babies in an incubator by owners and engineers who have poured a lot more than just blood, sweat and tears into their babies. Many of the vehicles that were being put through their paces around the famous track had their own F1 style support lorries, filled with wondrous amounts of tooling, spares and fresh rubber that all-in, probably cost more than you and I would earn in a lifetime, make no mistake, this is a wealthy mans pastime.
It is easy to get caught up with all of the beautiful machinery on display, but one thing that can’t be argued is just how friendly everybody was. We were more than welcome to wonder through the paddocks and talk to people as they prepped for their next outing on to the track, after all, if you are spending this much on a car, you want people to enjoy it! It would be easy to wonder around the pit lane for hours on end but unfortunately our time was coming to an end and we had to make our way home, yet even this proved to be a challenge as you couldn’t help but say ‘I just want to go and look at that…’
When you think of Silverstone and think of the many great that have raced there, the history just washes over you. But when you actually visit the circuit and watch every single driver, be it in an kitted out Ford Fiesta or a few hundred thousand pounds worth of Ferrari, giving it their all through Copse or down to Beckets, or hitting the Hangar straight as they leave Chapel and then trying not to lock up as they enter Stowe, you can’t help but feel the magic and the history oozing out of the tarmac at this very special place. Or maybe the petrol fumes had finally got to me…
Words & Photos: Ross Jukes