British GP: 70 years of racing magic at Silverstone

It’s not just the Formula 1 World Championship that’s celebrating its 70th anniversary this year but our own British Grand Prix’s role as part of that championship, too. Indeed, the very first race of that championship was the 1950 British Grand Prix, fittingly held at Silverstone. Since then, it has only ever been held there, at Aintree or at Brands Hatch. The British and Italian grands prix are the only races to have been held every single year since.

Last weekend, Silverstone hosted the 70th F1 British Grand Prix, and this weekend it will host a championship F1 race for the 54th time, with the one-off 70th Anniversary Grand Prix running at the track as part of the hastily rescheduled 2020 season. To celebrate both, this is our potted guide to every British Grand Prix and their winners. All races were held at Silverstone unless marked with an asterisk (Aintree) or two (Brands Hatch).

1950 Giuseppe Farina (Alfa Romeo): A total yawn fest with which to begin motorsport’s new premier championship. Four Alfa Romeo 158s entered; one retired and the others finished first, second and third. Everyone else got lapped. Twice.

1951 José Froilán González (Ferrari): Not just the race in which Alfa’s stranglehold was broken but also the first F1 victory for Ferrari. Its short and stocky winner, José Froilán González, also became the first person to lap Silverstone at more than 100mph. Ferrari’s hunch that its 4.5-litre V12 would be more frugal than Alfa’s supercharged 1.5-litre straight eight was right, but it had the pace to take pole, too. Only Alfa’s Juan Manuel Fangio could keep up in the race.

Having won every race of the 1950 season, Alfa triumphed just once in 1951 and hasn’t won again since. By contrast, Ferrari became the most successful constructor in F1 history.

1952 Alberto Ascari (Ferrari); 1953 Alberto Ascari (Ferrari); 1954 José Froilán González (Ferrari): Two years, two displays of domination by Alberto Ascari: the Italian started from pole and led every lap in both races. In 1954, González dominated for his second British GP victory, and these proved to be the only wins of his F1 career. This was the only grand prix of the season in which the dominant Mercedes team was genuinely off the pace.

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Lines they are a-changin’

Silverstone’s layout has changed substantially since it first held a grand prix in 1948. That event utilised both the perimeter roads and the main and second runways – which at one point meant cars driving towards each other separated only by hay bales. The following year, the event switched to a new layout using purely the perimeter roads, and this outline remains recognisable today.

That layout mixed a long straight with ultra-fast corners. A chicane was introduced to slow cars into Woodcote in 1975 and another was added at Bridge in 1987. The major change began in 1991, with the creation of the epic Maggotts-Becketts sequence and a new ‘stadium section’ at Club.

Further tweaks followed until a substantial change in 2010, with the introduction of the new infield Arena section and revived use of one of the runways. The pitlane was then moved in 2011. James Attwood

The British Grand Prix before Formula 1

The British Grand Prix began in 1926 as the Grand Prix of the Royal Automobile Club at Brooklands and was won by the French Delage team of Robert Sénéchal and Louis Wagner. Robert Benoist won in a similar car in 1927.

There was then a break for more than 20 years before the race, now known as the RAC International Grand Prix, relocated in 1948 to the new track at Silverstone, where Luigi Villoresi won in a Maserati. The following year, it took another name – the RAC British Grand Prix – and the rather wonderfully titled Baron Emmanuel ‘Toulo’ de Graffenried won in a Maserati, in what the Swiss would later describe as the greatest race of his career.

Other Grand Prix and F1 events held in the UK

The official FIA F1 World Championship hasn’t always been the only series for F1 cars. For many years, races comprising grids full of the greatest cars and drivers took place across Britain.

Notable among them is the Race of Champions, held at Brands Hatch 14 times from 1965 to 1983 and won by drivers as great as Dan Gurney, Bruce McLaren, Jackie Stewart, James Hunt and Gilles Villeneuve. Oulton Park held the Gold Cup 12 times from 1959 to 1972, with winners including Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Jack Brabham, John Surtees and Jackie Stewart, while Goodwood hosted the Glover Trophy from 1949 to 1965.

There was also the British F1 Championship (often recalled as Aurora AFX, after its sponsor), which ran from 1978-1982 and in which Desiré Wilson became the first woman to win an F1 race.

Until this week’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, the only championship F1 race held here apart from the British GP was the 1993 European GP.