Silverstone’s greatest motorsport moments
Silverstone is celebrating its 75th birthday in 2023. The home of the British Grand Prix has hosted many great races, across Formula 1, sportscars and much more since 1948, so we thought it was time to pick out some of the best
We’ve tried to include a combination of great performances, close races, dramatic finishes and landmark moments.
For this list, we’ve focused on the positive, so no 1992 British Touring Car finale here. There was definitely some fine driving in that famous event, but it’s probably more memorable for the controversy…
1969 British GP - Duel of two F1 greats
Stewart hunts Rindt in a 1969 classic
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Jackie Stewart and Jochen Rindt were the top drivers of 1969. For pace, there wasn’t a lot to choose between Stewart’s Tyrrell-run Matra MS80 and Rindt’s Lotus 49B, but the Austrian hadn’t finished a championship race by the time the F1 field arrived at Silverstone for round six.
Rindt led runaway points leader Stewart from pole and the duo simply left the rest behind. A mesmerising duel only ended when one of the Lotus’s rear-wing endplates came loose and Rindt had to pit. He charged back, only to run out of fuel and fall to fourth, leaving a clutchless Stewart to win by a lap.
1976 6 Hours - BMW ‘tortoise’ pips Porsche’s ‘hare’
The victory of John Fitzpatrick and Tom Walkinshaw in 1976 "established sportscar racing at Silverstone"
Photo by: Motorsport Images
“It established sportscar racing at Silverstone,” says commentator Ian Titchmarsh of the inaugural 6 Hours event, despite a sparse field of 17 starters. Endurance racing wasn’t in the best of health in the mid-1970s, yet this race went down to the wire.
The BMW 3.5 CSL of John Fitzpatrick/Tom Walkinshaw qualified 6.5 seconds off the quickest turbocharged Porsche but moved to the front as others hit trouble.
One of those – the Porsche 935 of Bob Wollek and Hans Heyer – charged after the BMW after a broken turboshaft was replaced, taking chunks from the leader, but ‘Fitz’ held on to win by 1.18s.
1981 British GP - Watson win hints at new era
John Watson scored an unexpected victory at Silverstone in 1981
Photo by: David Phipps
Before Mansell mania, Silverstone fans cheered for another remarkable home win, scored by Northern Irishman John Watson.
There hadn’t been a British winner in the race since 1977 and McLaren’s F1 drought, during which time Ron Dennis had taken control, was almost as long. But John Barnard’s carbon fibre MP4/1 hinted at the force McLaren was to become and Watson qualified fifth for the British GP.
He fell to ninth after avoiding Gilles Villeneuve’s spinning Ferrari but soon climbed back to third. When the rapid Renaults struck trouble, Watson hit the front for the final eight laps to rapturous applause.
SPECIAL FEATURE: Top 10 McLaren F1 cars
1985 British GP - Rosberg’s ridiculous record
Keke Rosberg's qualifying lap was the first F1 qualifying lap to breach an average speed of 160mph
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Silverstone used to be the fastest circuit on the F1 calendar. In 1985, before increasing restrictions curtailed the turbos, it was the scene of a milestone.
Williams-Honda was becoming a formidable combination, at least in qualifying with boost levels off the chart, and Rosberg took pole for the British GP with a lap of 1m05.591s. Not only was that nearly 0.7s clear of the rest, it was the first F1 qualifying lap to breach the 160mph average speed mark. And he did it with a slow puncture!
Rosberg didn’t last long in a race won by Alain Prost’s McLaren, but his 160.9mph record would stand for 17 years.
1986 1000Km - Breakthrough for TWR Jaguar
Jaguar won five races in a row at Silverstone between 1986 and 1991
Photo by: Sutton Images
Memories of Jaguar’s Group C successes with Tom Walkinshaw Racing often revolve around the Le Mans 24 Hours.
But the Big Cats had an even better strike rate at Silverstone, winning the world sportscar championship round there five times from five starts between 1986 and 1991. And the victory by Derek Warwick and Eddie Cheever in 1986 was the breakthrough, the first of Jaguar’s 19 WSC wins.
The lead XJR-6 qualified third and soon became embroiled in a fight with the pole-sitting Lancia LC2 of Alessandro Nannini/Andrea de Cesaris, a duel that swung back and forth until flagging fuel pressure slowed the Italian machine.
1987 British GP - Charging recovery thrills the fans
Mansell gears up to make that memorable move into Stowe
Nigel Mansell had already trailed Williams team-mate and championship rival Nelson Piquet for half the British GP when he pitted for fresh tyres due to a wheel balance weight having come off.
He returned to the race and had 28.4s to make up in 29 laps. It seemed an impossible task but Mansell repeatedly broke the lap record to catch Piquet.
Mansell then pulled off his famous dummy down Hangar Straight to dive by Piquet into Stowe with less than three laps to go. Despite running low on fuel, Mansell took victory by 1.9s to send the home fans wild.
1988 British GP - Two stars stand out in the rain
From 11th to second - Mansell celebrates with race-winner Ayrton Senna
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell. One in the midst of a titanic battle with a great team-mate that would result in his first world title, another toiling with unreliable equipment following two failed championship assaults.
Polesitter Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari led the early stages before Senna’s McLaren MP4/4 swept by on the way to one of the Brazilian’s great wet-weather wins.
Mansell only started 11th in a Williams-Judd that had had its active suspension system replaced with a passive one. But the rain allowed him to scythe through the field, setting the fastest lap on his way to the runner-up spot.
1992 British GP - Mansell’s Silverstone super pole
Mansell was utterly dominant in 1992
Photo by: Ercole Colombo
Mansell’s domination at Silverstone was never more complete than in 1992. Armed with the Williams FW14B, Mansell led every lap, won by nearly 40s and set the fastest lap by 1.8s.
But the moment that makes it onto this list came in qualifying. The top spot was never in doubt even before Mansell scorched round in 1m18.965s, 1.9s faster than team-mate Riccardo Patrese and 2.7s faster than third-placed Senna.
Mansell spent around 65% of the lap at full throttle and, in terms of percentage of the lap rather than pure time, his 2.4% advantage is a world championship F1 record that seems likely to stand for all time.
SPECIAL FEATURE: Top 10 Williams drivers
1994 British GP - Damon corrects a family wrong
Damon Hill finally took his family name onto the top step of the British GP podium in 1994
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Graham Hill often starred at Silverstone, not least during his charge through the F1 field in 1960, but he never won his home GP. Son Damon put that right in 1994, during a campaign in which he helped lift the Williams team following the death of Senna at Imola.
Hill had been in the shadow of Michael Schumacher early in the season but beat the Benetton driver to pole by 0.003s at round eight.
The duo battled before Schumacher finally came in to serve a stop-go penalty for overtaking the Williams on the formation lap, leaving Hill to take an emotional victory.
2008 British GP - Hamilton’s wet-weather masterclass
Lewis Hamilton's maiden British Grand Prix victory was arguably his best
Photo by: Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images
Most of the F1 greats have a special race in the rain on their CV and Lewis Hamilton managed perhaps the finest of his wet-weather wins early on.
After starting fourth, Hamilton quickly moved through to take the lead from McLaren team-mate Heikki Kovalainen on lap five of 60. Only Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen could offer any sort of resistance but he fell away when Hamilton’s new intermediate tyres proved better than the Finn’s ageing ones when the rain intensified.
Hamilton stayed out on inters when others changed to wets and reaped the dividends as the track dried. His final winning margin was 1m08.577s.
SPECIAL FEATURE: Lewis Hamilton’s top 10 F1 wins
For more Silverstone celebrations, look out for the 24 August issue of Autosport magazine. Subscribe today and never miss your weekly fix of motorsport.
What is your favourite Silverstone moment?
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
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