The Legend of the Silverstone Racing Circuit Part 1
Posted On January 16, 2020
Most motor racing fans when asked to name a British racing circuit off the top of their heads will think of the Silverstone Racing Circuit. Britain has no shortage of racing circuits, even though their numbers have been dwindling since the peak in the 1950s and 1960s. This means that to become a household name, in households where motorsport is loved, is not a frivolous task. Yet, Silverstone has become a brand, a prime location for motorsport globally. How does a winding stretch of tarmac become a national legend?
The Second World War had come to an end and the public, motor engineers, and motorsport enthusiasts could finally shift back to matters of peace. With the exciting innovations that the first half of the 20th century brought, motor racing in all of its forms was inevitably gaining popularity. But the United Kingdom did not come out of the war unscathed to say the least, and the government’s priorities were with rebuilding essential infrastructure. Naturally, racing circuits did not make the list of essential infrastructure. So, attention was turned to former Royal Air Force bases, fewer of which were now needed. One such base became what is now known as the Silverstone Circuit. The now ex-RAF base was an elegant solution to the British Grand Prix problem, as the paved runway was so wide, you could create a winding track without laying any new tarmac by using the airfield’s perimeter. All that was needed is a way to section out the track, marking a perimeter that would be both challenging for the racing drivers and exciting for the spectators. This job was given to James Brown, who in August 1948 was tasked with designing the circuit in just such a manner. His initial contract was for three months, but he continued to work for the Silverstone Circuit for the next 40 years, remaining an employee right until he passed away.
The first race in the circuits history took place on 2 October 1948. Straw bales, steel barrels and rope barriers served to mark the track and designate the spectator sections. One hundred thousand spectators came to watch the first Grand Prix that year. Organisers realised that they’ve hit gold. For the second Grand Prix held in 1949, the track was re-arranged, adding length to achieve a sum total of three miles. The Grand Prix that year was 100 laps long, setting a record for one of the longest at the time. 120’000 people came to watch. In addition to the Grand Prix, the first BRDC International Trophy race, a non-championship race sponsored by a British newspaper, was held at Silverstone that same year. It was becoming obvious that Silverstone was rising to prominence, which was cemented by a great deal of good fortune that came in 1950. It was the first year when the World Championship Grand Prix was held, which essentially legitimised Grand Prix on the international stage. Further recognition of the significance of the Grand Prix and British motorsport in general was achieved by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth being among the spectators that year.