British Grand Prix Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Prepare yourself for the British Grand Prix with Matt Youson's essential guide to Silverstone…

CIRCUIT GUIDE: Silverstone
LOCATION: Motorsport Valley, UK
KNOWN FOR: F1, MotoGP, WSB, Formula 3, endurance racing, vintage racing, World Aerobatics Championships… everything basically.
TYPE: Permanent Circuit

Silverstone is one of F1’s premier power circuits. Over 60 per cent of the lap is spent with the foot jammed to the floor, but unlike Valencia, Montreal or Monza, that isn’t necessarily in a straight line. Silverstone is famous for its high-speed corners and the massive lateral load it places on tyres. If you want to see what an F1 car is capable of, watch the cars swing through Copse at over 290kph, or hammer through Maggots, Beckets and Chapel.

It isn’t quite the beast it was, however. Over the last two decades, Silverstone has undergone safety improvements, with most of the corners being reprofiled. But the real change came in 2010 with the creation of the new infield section and the retirement of the awesome run from Abbey down to Bridge. This has added time and distance to the lap but also provided more overtaking opportunities and made the track more technical. Engineers now have to factor in traction much more than they did when the circuit was just about power and downforce. 

null© Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool / Sebastian Vettel at the 2010 British Grand Prix

Silverstone has never really favoured the man on pole: only 16 times from 45 F1 races has the fastest qualifier won the race. That said, front runners have dominated. Emerson Fittipaldi emerged from from seventh to win the 1975 race but usually the winner comes from higher up the grid. Johnny Herbert’s 1995 win from fifth is the furthest back any winner has climbed from in the modern era.

Silverstone is buried deep in the English countryside, which makes it good for anyone who wants the rowdy campsite experience, but not so good for anyone requiring creature comforts or non-barbecue-based nightlife. Its location in England’s motorsport heartland means it's very convenient for half the paddock, who can stay at home. Force India, Mercedes, Red Bull Racing, Marussia, Cosworth and MHPE are all on the doorstep, while Williams, Lotus and Pirelli aren't much further away.

In the past, the Silverstone experience has been characterised by traffic jams and bad weather. A new road right up to the circuit gates has eased the congestion, although it’s still worth taking three days’ worth of rations and a survival kit for the journey out. The weather remains fickle, however. Now the GP has been moved from April, it’s generally just miserable rather than apocalyptic. Gone are the days when stranded F1 cars and the trucks sent to save them would have to be hauled out by tractor.  

null© Ferrari / Alonso wins in 2011

Formula One might be the signature event, but the circuit also hosts Le Mans Series Endurance racing, most of the European junior series, British touring cars and both MotoGP and World Superbikes. Indeed, the current Arena Grand Prix layout was created with bikes in mind, as the bridge (of Bridge corner fame) was deemed to be too close to the tarmac and unsafe for MotoGP. The new infield loop does away with that section of track.

Silverstone held the British Motorcycle GP from 1977 until 1986, after which it went to Donington, coming back to the new Silverstone layout for 2010. Interestingly, in the last two years the race has been won by the rider who went on to win the World Championship: Jorge Lorenzo in 2010 and Casey Stoner in 2011. This bodes well for Jorge who won earlier this year.

Silverstone will also host a round of the inaugural World Endurance Championship this year, although the race will be a slightly repackaged version of the traditional Silverstone 1000km race (aka the Six Hours of Silverstone) which has been held on and off since 1976. Peugeot have won the last two races, but Alain McNish’s three victories for Audi is the best record. 

null© Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool / Webber in 2011

Silverstone was a WWII airfield and racing on its long runways began shortly after the war ended. The early races were amateurish in the extreme, with an errant sheep famously being turned into kebab meat after wandering onto the track in 1947. After that, races at Silverstone briefly became known as the Mutton Grand Prix.

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