Sil­ver­stone: a cir­cuit of the ages

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS - Fol­low An­thony on Twit­ter: @Rowl­in­son_F1

A lit­tle over 66 years ago, on 13 May 1950, 24 cars as­sem­bled to form a grid on the ex-run­way as­phalt of Sil­ver­stone, Northants and there be­gan the mo­tor rac­ing odyssey that is the For­mula 1 World Cham­pi­onship.

Alfa Romeo dom­i­nated that first F1 race, com­plet­ing a podium lock-out via Nino Fa­rina, Luigi Fa­gi­oli and Reg Par­nell: theirs, in­deli­bly, was the first chap­ter in a nar­ra­tive that still hold us in thrall as it con­tin­ues to en­rich its plot with ex­otic new lo­ca­tions (Baku, any­one?) and stir­ring new he­roes (think Max Ver­stap­pen).

Then, as now, the chal­lenge was the same: be fastest, be first – and for the driv­ers that meant, as it still does, avail­ing your­self of the best ma­chin­ery. In 1950 that was a ride in an Alfa 158; in 2016 the Mercedes W07 is un­ques­tion­ably the grand prix car of choice. Seiz­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties as they present them­selves has al­ways been equally vi­tal: Fa­rina won that in­au­gu­ral grand prix after the re­tire­ment of favourite Juan Manuel Fan­gio; Nico Ros­berg prof­ited in Azer­bai­jan from the qual­i­fy­ing er­rors of a resur­gent Lewis Hamil­ton to take a win that may yet prove cru­cial in his ti­tle quest.

It’s worth paus­ing to re­flect on these es­sen­tial qual­i­ties of grand prix rac­ing, as F1 moves on from a well-re­ceived first ‘Baku­vian’ GP. Much of the sport’s mod­ern suc­cess stems from a meld­ing of the old and the new; of the es­tab­lish­ment and the up­starts. Baku it­self pre­sented an al­lur­ing blend of these in­gre­di­ents, it be­ing a me­dieval city host­ing its first For­mula 1 event on a freshly laid street cir­cuit that weaves through cas­tle walls and Her­mès bou­tiques sit­ting cheek-by-jowl.

Sil­ver­stone of­fers lit­tle in the way of trin­ketry or an­cient ar­chi­tec­ture to at­tract the masses, pre­fer­ring some­thing close to mo­tor rac­ing in the raw. It re­mains a high-speed thriller, de­spite the re­cent changes to the track lay­out; the sec­tion from Copse through to Mag­gotts to Beck­etts is one of the truest tests of high­speed per­for­mance and car con­trol any­where on the cal­en­dar. Blink and you’ll miss the di­rec­tion change through this sec­tion: it’s like a trick of the light.

So when you gaze in a mix­ture of awe and ex­cite­ment at the grid for this year’s Bri­tish Grand Prix, don’t take for granted the pres­ence of these men and their ma­chines. Refuse to be fash­ion­ably blasé about what you’re about to wit­ness, even if it’s a blus­tery grey day with the chill wind of a fickle English sum­mer goad­ing your fail­ure to pack a fleece. Con­sider, in­stead, that the Bri­tish Grand Prix is some­thing spe­cial, a shy jewel in the crown, which these days links F1 with its deep­est roots in a way that only a hand­ful of long-es­tab­lished grands prix – Monaco, Italy, Bel­gium – still man­age.

We’re not alone in this view: tens of thou­sands will flock to ‘The Home of Bri­tish Mo­tor Rac­ing’ in a few weeks, to get their F1 fix and, who knows, maybe they will wit­ness a home win if Lewis can over­turn his patchy 2016 luck, and make amends for his be­low-par per­for­mance in Baku. If he does, most will go home happy.

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