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Lights Out: Silverstone's Greatest F1 Moments

Next Sunday marks the 79th running of the Silverstone Grand Prix. As we cross our fingers for a great race, (which looks promising as Red Bull's dominance appears to be waning), we've rounded up some of the greatest moments that have taken place at the home of British Motor Racing. From the inaugural World Championship race in 1950, Schumacher's controversial win in 1998 and that bizarre, "we've got a lunatic on the track", moment in 2003, Silverstone has delivered some of the most memorable moments in F1 history.

Written by Archie Hill for The Apex by Custodian.

1950: The Inaugural World Championship Race

Geoffrey Crossley leads Joe Kelly at Silverstone in 1950, with both driver's piloting the two Alta's. The Alta was the brain child of brilliant British engineer Geoffrey Taylor // Source: J13

Silverstone had already played host to Grand Prix racing in 1948, when the RAC hosted the first British Grand Prix, but the introduction of the FIA World Championship of Drivers in 1950 meant that Silverstone would set the stage for the inaugural World Championship Race. 

Silverstone Circuit in 1950–1951 configuration

In front of a crowd of 200,000, the Italian Alfa Romeo’s would go on to dominate the opening race of the season, securing the top 3 positions with Nino Farina in 1st, Luigi Fagioli in 2nd, and Reg Parnell in 3rd. 

A very entertaining video made by Matt Amys with Alex Jacques commentating on the 1950 Grand Prix

Enzo Ferrari was unimpressed by the seemingly insignificant amount of money the organisers were willing to pay him to compete, so he refused to send any of his Scuderia Ferrari’s across the Channel, choosing instead to debut at the next round in Monaco. The event would also see a fresh faced Stirling Moss win in the International 500cc support race driving a Cooper JAP. 

1987: Mansell Mania

One of the most celebrated moments in British motorsport history came in 1987 when Nigel Mansell won his second consecutive British Grand Prix. Mansell, driving for Williams, trailed his teammate Nelson Piquet for much of the race.

After a pit stop for fresh tyres, Mansell rejoined 29 seconds behind Piquet with only 28 laps remaining. On fresh rubber, Mansell began an epic charge, breaking the lap record eight times to the delight of the over 100,000 strong British crowd.

In the closing laps, he executed one of the most audacious overtakes in F1 history at Stowe Corner, sending the British crowd into raptures. Mansell’s victory lap, known as the "Mansell Mania," with fans flooding the track, remains an iconic moment in F1 history.


Source: F1

1998: Ferrari Strategy Strikes Back

Believe it or not, British summertime is no guarantee of sunshine. Case in point, the 1998 Silverstone Grand Prix. The rain had been on and off all weekend, and despite starting under somewhat dry conditions, the heavens opened on Lap 16. Herbert, Barichello, Trulli and Coulthard all spun out in the tricky conditions, as well as Hakkinen, who was leading the race. 

Source: Girardo & Co

The safety car was deployed to slow the cars down, which allowed Schumacher to close up to the back of Hakkinen’s McLaren. In doing so, Schumacher passed Alexander Wurz under the safety car. A move that earned him a 10 second time penalty. 

Hakkinen made another mistake shortly after the safety car returned to the pits, and Schumacher took the lead. In what appeared to be a moment of brilliance from Ferrari strategists (more of that this season please), Ferrari told Schumacher to stay out until the final lap, before coming into the pits to serve his penalty. In doing so, he crossed the start finish line on his way to his pitbox. 

This caused so much confusion that no one knew who’d won the race. After much deliberation, the stewards had managed to get in such a pickle that they rescinded the penalty altogether. As a result of their mistakes, the three stewards involved handed in their licenses at an extraordinary meeting of the FIA World Council.

2003: “We’ve got a lunatic on the track”

Source: BBC

There have been two instances of track invaders at a Formula 1 Grand Prix in recent memory. Hockenheim in 2000, and Silverstone in 2003. While the race was already exciting enough, the sight of a man running down the Hangar straight towards cars that are approaching 200mph certainly adds some tension. 

The invader, Neil Horan, was a former Irish Priest wearing a placard that read, “Read the Bible. The Bible is always right”. He was swiftly tackled to the ground and served 2 months in prison for his antics. As it turns out, he was arrested for an attempted track invasion at the Epsom Derby, and for a track invasion at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, where he pushed Brazilian runner Vanderlei de Lima into the crowd during the Men’s Marathon. 


Skip to 0:55 to see the drama unfold // Source: F1

The race led to fears that Formula One bosses Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone, who had been highly critical of the media and corporate facilities of Silverstone, would use the incident to drop the race from the Formula One calendar, with Ecclestone saying: "It wasn't necessary – the race was exciting enough without it. But the security wasn't good enough." Drivers and team officials defended the circuit, with Montoya stating: "This was one of the best races of the year, even with the spectator. It was so much fun today."

2020: Hamilton’s Three-Wheeled Victory

Set against the backdrop of a season disrupted by Covid, the 2020 Silverstone Grand Prix offered up one of its most dramatic finishes yet. Mercedes dominated the race early on and looked set for a 1-2 finish, but on Lap 50 of 52 Bottas suffered a tyre failure and was forced to pit. A lap later Sainz suffered the same fate. 

Source: F1

With fears Hamilton could be next, Mercedes were quick to get on the radio and relay their concerns. Sure enough, at turn 8, on the last lap, Hamilton’s front-left tyre gave up. As he nursed his wounded Mercedes to the finish line, Verstappen closed in. A 30 second gap came down to 6, but Hamilton did enough to secure his 7th British Grand Prix win.


Source: F1

The tyre failures near the end of the race were investigated by Pirelli and the FIA after the race. It was concluded that they were generated by two different causes: firstly, the 'extremely long' stints the cars were running on the demanding Silverstone circuit; and secondly, the increased pace of the 2020 cars which maximised the forces on the tyres, with the most stress on the front-left.

2021: Verstappen and Hamilton Collide (again)

Sparks fly // Source: GrandPrix247

This wasn’t just any old collision though. This was a 180mph, 51G into the barrier kind of collision. The stewards felt that Hamilton was predominantly, but not fully, at fault in the contact, and he received a ten-second time penalty. Despite this, Hamilton would go on to win his 8th British Grand Prix. 

After the race, there was plenty of discussion around the Lap 1 accident. Several drivers, including Leclerc and Bottas, believed that it was a racing incident. Leclerc, who was behind the two when it happened said, "There was space on the inside. Maybe Lewis was not completely at the apex but it is also true Max was quite aggressive on the outside. Things happen."

Verstappen was able to walk away from the accident with no serious injuries, but the same can’t be said for Red Bull’s bank balance. The crash cost the team at least £1,300,000. 

Here’s to hoping the 79th edition of the race is one to remember!

The Apex Team

The Apex Team

The Apex Editorial Team @Custodian: Archie Hill - Interviewer & Editor, Archie Hill Jeremy Hindle Charles Clegg - Editors, Archie Hill - Production, David Marcus - Transcription.