Formula 1 returns to its spiritual home this weekend for the seventieth running of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
The British Grand Prix is, along with the Italian Grand Prix, the oldest continuously staged Formula 1 Grands Prix in the calendar, with enough on-track antics and stories to make even Eddie Jordan beg for quiet.
Whether you like exploding tyres, priests in kilts playing chicken with F1 cars or track invasions so hearty that drivers are physically unable to complete the cool-down lap and have to be rescued by a van, Silverstone has seen it all. And yet…
The British Grand Prix might disappear from the calendar altogether. Rumours are circulating that Silverstone could activate a break in its contract to cancel the British Grand Prix after 2019, with Bernie Ecclestone-era fees being one of the main reasons the track’s wanting to stop.
BRDC Chairman John Grant penned a letter last year, claiming, “Even in a good year, the BGP does not generate enough cash to cover its share of the site overheads, our major concern has always been the risk of a bad year.”
The loss of the British Grand Prix would be felt the world-round, especially with most Formula 1 teams being based in or around the Silverstone Circuit, but no group would feel the loss more than the British people.
Britain has produced some of the best drivers in the history of the sport, its marshals are so highly trained that some are ferried around the world to help at different tracks, and the fans are arguably the most die-hard Formula 1 enthusiasts you’ll ever meet. A break wouldn’t just deprive Britain of a Grand Prix; it would deprive Formula 1 of Britain.
Anyone who doubts this needs only watch these five overtakes at Silverstone. Overtakes that defined the sport, defied the physics and decried drivers’ ferocious personalities all took place on Silverstone.
With this in mind, the most important thing for this year isn’t just to watch the race; it’s to enjoy it as though it might be one of the last. That’s because if things don’t pan out the way we fans hope, there’s a possibility it could be.
What happened last year?
Last year’s race was one of drama, rain and hometown glory.
In true British style, it rained. The drivers started under safety car but as the race wore on, the track started to dry, and it was offering big advantages to anyone brave enough to thread the needle between in and out of control.
We famously saw Max Verstappen make a seemingly impossible overtake on Nico Rosberg through the Maggots-Becketts corners (on his way to picking up his third podium of his career) and Lewis Hamilton became the first British driver to win the British Grand Prix three times in a row.
It wasn’t all positive though. The weather was out for victims and found some in the most unlikely places. Vettel, Alonso, Raikkonen, Hamilton – all World Champions, all spun. They were able to keep going, but Manor Racing drivers Rio Haryanto and Pascal Wehrlein – not World Champions – spun and found themselves in the barriers.
Spinning wasn’t the only thing to worry about though. With Nico Rosberg dealing with car issues and coming under pressure from Verstappen, Rosberg received a message from his pit wall about how to solve his car’s issue. This prompted confusion among commentators as an ill-fated (read: terrible) rule on not helping drivers over team radio seemed to have been broken. This assumption was later confirmed, with a televised collective face-palm from the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team pit wall, as they realised they’d made a huge error.
Rosberg was able to finish second but, having had the message to avoid seventh gear, was handed a ten-second penalty, putting him behind Verstappen in the race. Ahead Lewis Hamilton took the win and crowd-surfed across the enraptured British fans, creating yet another priceless Silverstone memory for the sport.
How about this year?
Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team are still at the top of the Constructors’ Championship, thanks to a win from Valtteri Bottas in Austria. They’re just 33 points ahead of nearest rival Scuderia Ferrari.
Red Bull Racing sit in a distant but relatively safe third place, despite Verstappen only finishing two of the seven races this year.
A surprisingly strong Sahara Force India F1 Team are fourth in the Constructors’ with 89 points – over double the points of Williams Martini Racing, who have just 40.
Haas F1 Team’s season wasn’t helped much last time out, with a DNF for Kevin Magnussen and a sixth for Romain Grosjean. The team is seventh in the Championship.
Renault Sport Formula 1 Team lead Sauber F1 Team eighteen points to five, with Renault’s Jolyon Palmer and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson both yet to score any points this season.
An unsurprising tenth in the Constructors’ is McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team, who have a solitary two points from Fernando Alonso’s shock ninth place in Azerbaijan.
This year’s British Grand Prix raises a lot of questions. Can Hamilton maintain his winning streak, having won every British Grand Prix since 2014? Will we see any more kilts? And, perhaps the most pertinent, will this be one of the final British Grands Prix? Only time will tell, but for the sake of motorsport, of Formula 1, and of the British fans, we certainly hope not. The only thing that is certain is that, no matter what, Britain and its fans will be out in force this weekend.