Silverstone: a circuit of the ages
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.