Heritage Locations

Silverstone


This World War II bomber station became the principal motor racing circuit in Britain. The control tower survives as the HQ of the British Racing Drivers Club.

Constructor:
Unclassified

Period of construction:
1900 - 1949

Transport Trust plaque:
No

Transport Mode:
Air

Address:
Silverstone, NN12 8TH

Postcode:
NN12 8TN

Nearest Town:
Northampton

Heritage Centre:
No


Silverstone Circuit is built on the site of a World War II bomber base, RAF Silverstone, which opened in 1943. The airfield's three runways, in classic WWII triangle format, lie within the outline of the present track.

Once World War II had ended in 1945, Britain was left with a number of redundant airfields but without a major race track. Donington Park was still a military vehicle storage depo; Brooklands had been sold off; Crystal Palace was in a state of disrepair; and Brands Hatch was still under-developed.

The Royal Automobile Club was interested in Silverstone as a potential site and approached the Air Ministry in 1948 and a lease was arranged. At this time the centre of Silverstone Circuit was a farm producing cereal crops and also a piggery, so the RAC employed farmer James Wilson Brown to create the first Grand Prix circuit at the site, and gave him just two months to build it.

Silverstone is now best known as the home of the British Grand Prix, which it first hosted in 1948 and which has been held on the circuit every year since 1987. The circuit is also the home of the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) The BRDC International Trophy, formerly one of the premier non-Championship Formula 1 races in the calendar, is today awarded to the winner of a race for historic Formula 1 cars at the annual Silverstone Classic meeting. The BRDC became a major force in international motor racing, taking over the lease of Silverstone from the RAC in 1952 and subsequently purchasing the site's freehold from the Ministry of Defence in 1971.

The first two races were held on the runways themselves, with long straights separated by tight hairpin corners, the track demarcated by hay bales. However for the 1949 International Trophy meeting it was decided to switch to the perimeter track. This arrangement was used for the 1950 and 1951 Grands Prix. In 1952 the start line was moved from the Farm Straight to the present Finish Straight, and this layout remained largely unaltered for the following 35 years.

For the 1975 meeting a chicane was introduced to try and tame speeds through the mighty Woodcote Corner, and Bridge Corner was subtly rerouted in 1987 before the track underwent a major redesign between the 1990 and 1991 races.

The story of the British Racing Drivers' Club started in the days of the famous Bentley team that so effectively, and romantically, dominated the racing scene - Le Mans in particular - during the late 1920s.

The founder of the BRDC, Dr. J. D. Benjafield, one of the famed 'Bentley Boys' at Le Mans, was keen to organise dinner parties after races for his friends and drivers. It was these dinner parties which were the seeds from which grew the highly prestigious and much respected British Racing Drivers' Club that we know today.

The Club was inaugurated early in 1928, with twenty-five members and a clear set of objectives. These were to promote the interests of motor sport generally; to celebrate any specific performance in motor sport; to extend hospitality to racing drivers from overseas; and to further the interests of British drivers competing abroad.

At that time, membership was restricted to racing drivers of proven success and experience, and quickly grew following the decision of the BRDC to move into race organisation. The first Club-organised event, the BRDC 500-Mile Race, took place at Brooklands in October 1929 and the BRDC badge quickly established itself as a regular feature on overalls worn by the Club pioneer drivers.

After the Second World War, the BRDC became a major force in international motor racing, taking over the lease of Silverstone from the RAC in 1952 and subsequently purchasing the site's freehold from the Ministry of Defence in 1971.

The Club, through its wholly-owned subsidiary company, Silverstone Circuits Limited(formed in 1966 to develop the commercial aspects of the property), then set in motion a major redevelopment of what had been a wartime bomber training base producing one of the foremost motor racing facilities in the world.

The entry criteria to the Club remain strict, with Full membership offered only to those ladies and gentlemen who have attained international success over a number of seasons. Associate membership is offered to those persons who have made a significant contribution to the sport, and Honorary Membership is bestowed upon only a special few, including F1 World Champions who by dint of nationality do not otherwise qualify. Every British or Commonwealth World Champion is, or has been in their lifetime, a Full Member of the Club.

Silverstone Circuits Limited promote a number of major international race meetings at Silverstone, including the British Grand Prix, plus rounds of the rounds of the FIA GT Championships, The British Touring Car Championship, Le Mans Series, British SuperBikes, British F3-GT and the Walter Hayes Trophy to name a few.

Evidence of RAF Silverstone is scarce but the original control tower survives as the HQ of the BRDC.


Bibliography:
Falconer, Jonathan, RAF Bomber Airfields of World War 2, Ian Allan, ISBN 0 7110 2080 9 (1995)

 

Henry, Alan (2007-05-10). "Motor racing: Ecclestone fires Silverstone salvo", The Guardian, Guardian Newspapers, p. 10.

Hamilton, Maurice (2007-05-13). "Formula One Spanish Grand Prix: Hamiltons pace fuels expectation", The Observer, Guardian Newspapers, p. 24.

Hayes, Chris (2008-07-01). "The Price of Heritage: Will Silverstone Survive?

Le Grand, Max, and Colverson, Tom, Brands to Bexhill, Bookmarque, ISBN-10: 1870519302 (1995)

Rogers, Gareth, 100 Years of the British Automobile Racing Club, History Press, ISBN-10: 075246180X (2011)

Swinger, Peter, Motor Racing circuits in England: Then and Now, Robson, ISBN-10: 1861054114 (2008)

Venables, David, British Racing Green, Ian Allan, ASIN: B003JIOKMY (2008)



Opening Times:
Open to the public for race meetings.

How To Find:
By Road: Close to A43 south of Towcester.

Facilities:


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