British Grand Prix

A Very British Thing...


Brooklands was one of the first purpose built race tracks in the world. It was a 2.75 mile long banked oval built near Weybridge, Surry, England. It was used for speed runs and racing until WWII, when it's infield was used as an airfield. Racing on ovals was considered too dangerous after the war, and the circuit was no longer used.

Brooklands became famous for its long distance races as well as record attempts. In June 1907, Selwyn Edge broke set a record for the longest distance travelled in 24 hours - just under 1582 miles - in a Napier. The record would stand for 18 years. Brooklands even hosted races for female drivers in the 1920s, and many of the famous "Bentley Boys" would start their racing careers at Brooklands.

The first British Grand Prix was held at Brooklands in 1926. The course was modified with sand banks to simulate road racing and encourage participation from the European drivers. The race was won by René Sénéchal and Louis Wagner in a Delage.

An early Brooklands car - the Barnatto-Hassan driven by Dudley Froy
A Bugatti T-59 and the Barnatto-Hassan
A couple of Bugatti's going at it
Count Zborowski at Brooklands. His cars inspired the book "Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang".

In the early days at Brooklands there was a lot of experimentation, and some interesting equipment showed up

George Eyeston in an early record setting car
Early streamliner
Another early streamliner
Bertie Moir in his Striker Squire

In 1939, Brooklands closed its gates and never hosted a race again. In recent times, it has become a sort of Mecca for vintage and veteran cars, and several historic meetings and classic car rallies centre on Brooklands. Part of the infield was sold off to commercial interests, but a preservation order prevents any further development of the site.

A modern day photograph of a Bugatti T-54 on the remnants of Brooklands


Strictly speaking, the British Grand Prix was not held between 1928 and 1948. Nevertheless, there were Grand Prix events, and these were a significant part of road racing history in Britain. The events in question were the Donington Grands Prix, held at the Donington Park circuit, near Castle Donington in Leicestershire. Donington Park was opened in 1931 and was originally designed only for motorcycle racing. However, the circuit was widened in 1933 to allow cars to race there also, and it became the first road racing circuit for cars in Britain. In 1935, Donington hosted the first Donington Grand Prix, with a mix of British and European cars although with mostly British drivers. The event was won by Richard Shuttleworth driving an Alfa Romeo P3. The following year, the event attracted a larger number of participants however it was not until 1937, when the event gained full international status, that the event was really put on the map - the mighty German Mercedes Benz and Auto Union cars turned up and utterly dominated the event, which was won by the legendary Bernd Rosemeyer.

Sadly, Grand Prix racing did not last long at Donington - the 1938 event was the last before WWII broke out.

Manfred von Brauchitsch in a Mercedes gets airborne in the 37 race
Bernd Rosemeyer getting the Auto Union in the air in the 1937 race
Bernd winning the race in 1937
Tazio Nuvolari in the Auto Union at Donington 1938

The Postwar Era

Racing resumed after WWII, and the Grand Prix rules were replaced by the newly conceived Formula 1 rules. In 1948, the RAC International Grand Prix - otherwise known as the British Grand Prix - would be held at RAF Silverstone in Northamptonshire. The circuit was formed from the perimeter roads and the two runways that made up the now defunct WWII airfield. The circuit was marked out with ropes and straw bales and incredibly the arrangement of the circuit meant that cars would race towards each other head on down one of the runways before turning and rejoining the perimeter road! The race was won by Luigi Villoresi driving a Maserati. The next year, the runways were eliminated and the perimeter road only was used, and so was born one of the most enduring motor racing circuits in the world.

Geoffry Ansell gets on his side at Silverstone 1948. He was OK.
Luigi Villoresi in a Maserati 1948

In 1950, there was to be an official Drivers' World Championship, and the first race of that world championship (which was actually the 5th grand prix of the year) was held at Silverstone on May 13th 1950 - a gala event, attended by King George VI. The race was dominated by the Alfa Romeos - they qualified 1-2-3-4 and finished 1-2-3 (and would have swept the first four places had Fangio not retired with a broken conrod). The race was won by Giuseppe "Nino" Farina, who went on to claim the Drivers' Championship that year. The following year's race would see the fist victory for Scuderia Ferrari, with José Froilán Gonzáles at the wheel. It was also the first time that Alfa Romeo were beaten in a world championship event.

The Alfa Romeo Team at Silverstone, 1950 - Juan Manuel Fangio
Fangio in the pits
Dr. Guissepe Farina
Luigi Fagioli
José Froilán Gonzáles winning in the Ferrari in 1951

Silverstone, by and large, remained the home of the British Grand Prix, although several Grands Prix were held at Aintree in Liverpool ('55, '57, '59, '61 and '62). In 1964, the British Grand Prix moved to Brand Hatch in Kent, and the British Grand Prix would subsequently alternate between Brands Hatch and Silverstone until 1987, when the race moved to Silverstone on a permanent basis.

The 1955 race at Aintree. It would be a Mercedes day - they would take the top four spots:

Mike Hawthorne in a Ferrari
Jack Brabham in a Cooper-Bristol leading Mike Hawthorne
Juan Manuel Fangio in one of the Mercedes
Juan Manuel Fangio again
Sir Stirling Moss in another Mercedes - he would take the win
Fangio congratulating Moss for his victory

The 1957 British Grand Prix at Aintree was another landmark event. The race was won by Stirling Moss and Tony Brookes (who shared the drive) driving a Vanwall. Thus it was the first World Championship Grand Prix win for a British car.

Maurice Trintignant in a Ferrari
The Maserati stable at Aintree
Juan Manuel Fangio in a Maserati
The Vanwall VW5 that was shared by Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks for the win in '57
The Ferrari of Mike Hawthorne at Silverstone in 1958 - he would finish 2nd
The Ferrari of Peter Collins in 1958 - he would win
Two photos of the start at Aintree in 1961. Ferrari would sweep the top three on a rainy day

The Brands Hatch circuit was originally a dirt track used for cross-country races. It was commandeered for use by the military during WWII, and as a consequence was subjected to bombing raids by the Germans. After the war, the circuit was rebuilt and paved to create a short oval-shaped circuit. Several upgrades and expansions resulted in the 2.6 mile Grand Prix circuit, which hosted the British Grand Prix for the first time in 1964. The event was won by Jim Clark in a Lotus 25.

Surtees at Brands Hatch in 1964 - he would finish 3rd
Graham Hill at Brands Hatch in 1964 - he would finish 2nd
The field shortly after the start at Brands Hatch in 1966. Jack Brabham would win
Joe Siffert in a Lotus fights with Chris Amon's Ferrari for 2nd at Brands Hatch in 1968. Siffert would win after Jackie Oliver retired with tranny failure.
The start at Brands Hatch in 1972
Emmo takes the win in '72

The 1976 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch was mired in controversy. At the start, the Ferraris of Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni touched wheels, causing Regazzoni to spin. James Hunt's McLaren would then hit Regazzoni's car, launching into the air and damaging the suspension. Hunt's car was repaired and the race was restarted. He would go on to victory, but weeks later he was disqualified because the repairs to his car before the restart were deemed to have been done illegally. Thus the win was awarded to Lauda.

The start of the 1976 race at Brands Hatch
The collision that caused the situation

Modern Times

Since 1987, Silverstone has hosted the British Grand Prix continuously. There have been several memorable events, such as the 1987 even in which Mansell stormed to victory after executing a legendary overtaking move on his Williams team mate Nelson Piquet; The 1994 race was won by Damon Hill - a feat his legendary father never achieved - whilst title rival Michael Schumacher was disqualified for illegally overtaking on the parade lap; the wet-dry 1998 race was won by Michael Schumacher in the pit lane after he took a late race stop-go penalty for passing under yellow flags on the last lap; and the 2003 race, which was disrupted when a member of the public invaded the race track and ran down the hangar straight, was won by Rubens Barrichello, who demonstrated superb overtaking skills.

- A YouTube clip of the 1998 British Grand Prix

In July 2008, just days before the 60th anniversary of Grand Prix racing at Silverstone, it was announced that from 2010 the British Grand Prix will move to Donington, which has a ten year contract to host the event. And so, in a way, road racing in Britain will go full circle.

Mika Hakkinen on a very wet and confusing day at Silverstone in 1998
Heinz Harold Frentzen and Damon hill chauffered by Murray Walker during the pre-race festivities in 1999
The Toyota of Allen Mcnish in 2001
Heikki gets ready in 2007