Silverstone | The History

For over 70 years Silverstone has been Britain’s home of motor racing, a role that it is set to play for decades to come.

The former WW2 airfield first hosted a race in 1948 when a track was laid out over a combination of its perimeter roads and runways, with two tight hairpins included. The British GP was a huge success, and when the World Championship was created two years later Silverstone hosted the first ever event, with King George VI in attendance.

From 1955 to 1962 it alternated as host of the country’s major race with Aintree, and then from 1964 to 1986 it shared the honour with Brands Hatch. However, it became the Grand Prix’s permanent home in 1987, and it has remained a fixture on the F1 calendar ever since.

The track has changed many times over the decades, but it has always retained its trademark high-speed nature. The runway sections and hairpins were dropped after the first year, maintaining the ultra-fast perimeter track that remained in use for 25 years and was slowed only slightly by the addition of the Woodcote chicane before the start/finish line in 1975.

A tighter, revised chicane was added in 1987, and then there was a major revamp in 1991, with a slow infield section added before the original pits and start/finish area, and the fast Maggotts/Becketts section streamlined and made more challenging.

The next big change came in 2010 when the current layout was introduced, including a spectacular new section after Abbey. A new pit and paddock complex, including the trademark “Wing” building, was constructed after Club corner.

Much history has been made at Silverstone over the years, and all the greats have won the British GP. However the biggest cheers have always been reserved for the local heroes – Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, James Hunt, John Watson, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Johnny Herbert and David Coulthard all won at Silverstone. More recently Lewis Hamilton has been the focus of the crowd’s support, logging seven British GP wins between 2008 and 2020.

However the circuit’s special place in history is not just about the big stars, but also the role it has played in nurturing talent as drivers make their way up the ranks, often racing on shorter versions of the circuit.

The history of women at Silverstone

Perhaps the greatest achievement by a female driver over Silverstone’s long history was Desire Wilson’s victory in the 1980 6 Hours event, a round of the World Sportscar Championship.

At the time Wilson was gearing up for a Grand Prix debut at Brands Hatch that summer. At the top of her game, she also put together a sportscar programme, sharing Alain de Cadenet’s eponymous DFV-powered car. In April the pair beat the odds to win at Monza, beating strong opposition from Porsche and Lancia.

Then in May at Silverstone they scored another success, Wilson overcoming a misfire and a penalty to put in a storming drive to victory over the closing hours of the race.

Wilson also competed in Aurora British F1 championship races at Silverstone, finishing fifth with a Tyrrell in 1979 and eighth with a Wolf in 1980.

The first woman to compete in an F1 event at the track was Maria Teresa de Filippis, who entered her own Maserati 250F in the 1959 non-championship International Trophy. The Italian started 23rd, and retired with transmission problems.

Her compatriot Lella Lombardi remains the only woman to have started a British GP at Silverstone. Lombardi’s first outing in an F1 event was at the non-championship 1974 International Trophy, in which she competed in the F5000 class in her Radio Luxembourg-backed Lola.

In 1975 she joined the works March F1 team. She qualified 14th of the 19th entries at the International Trophy, and finished 12th while chasing home Graham Hill, who was making his last race start. Three months later Lombardi returned to the same venue for the British GP. This time she qualified 22nd of 28, but her day was ruined by a misfire that saw her forced to start at the back and retire early.

In 1978 Divina Galica began the F1 season with the Hesketh team. After frustrating non-qualifications in the opening GPs in South America she took part in the International Trophy. Unfortunately she was one of many drivers to spin off in heavy rain, and she was later dropped by the team. Galica raced at Silverstone on many other occasions, notably competing in her own March in the 1979 and 1980 European F2 rounds at the track.

The other female driver who logged a significant F1 milestone at Silverstone was Susie Wolff. Having done much of her early racing at the track she took part in FP1 sessions with Williams in both 2014 and 2015, although a mechanical issue stopped her on the first occasion.

Giovanna Amati was entered for the F3000 races in both 1988 and 1989, but she failed to qualify on both occasions.

More recently Tatiana Calderon competed in FIA F3 events at the track in 2013-’15, before returning in GP3 in 2016-’18. In 2019 she contested the FIA F2 event with the Arden team.

Many current W Series drivers have raced at Silverstone, notably of course those whose careers started in the UK, such as Jessica Hawkins and Abbie Eaton.

Jamie Chadwick was a class winner with her Aston Martin in British GTs in 2015, and she also raced at the track in BRDC F3 events in 2017 and 2018. Alice Powell earned a sixth place in Formula Renault in 2011, and took part in the GP3 event the following year, in a field that also included Vicky Piria.

Beitske Visser is another regular Silverstone visitor, competing in Renault 3.5 in 2015 and 2016, and more recently in the International GT Open in 2019.

Emma Kimilainen took part in sixth Formula Palmer Audi races at the track in 2009, earning a best result of fifth.