Silverstone declares itself the home of British racing and with a history stretching back to 1948, there is some justification to the claim. Always one of the fastest circuits, Silverstone has developed from its windswept airfield origins into one of the most recognised in world motorsport.
It began life in 1943 as RAF Silverstone, home to a unit training Wellington pilots in night bombing techniques. At the end of World War Two it became surplus to requirements and lay dormant for several years. Its first brush with motorsport was strictly unofficial; a group of local enthusiasts held an impromptu thrash around the abandoned runways in 1947. One of the contingent struck a sheep when it wandered onto the site, thereafter leading to the day's events being dubbed the Mutton Grand Prix...
By the following year, there was official interest in creating a circuit from the runways. With Donington Park being used as a storage area for the military, Brooklands being owned by Vickers Armstrong with its inevitable focus on aircraft and Crystal Palace in a state of disrepair, the Royal Automobile Club began searching for new venues. With its expanse of runways and perimeter roads, Silverstone seemed ideal.
In what would turn out to be one of best decisions in motor racing administration history, the RAC enlisted James 'Jimmy' Brown to organise the first Grand Prix, giving him less than two months to make the event a reality. Not only did he pull off a minor miracle, Brown remained firmly at the helm for nearly 40 years, guiding Silverstone's transformation from austerity to world-class facility.
So it was that the first Grand Prix was run at the beginning of October 1948, though on a significantly different course to what would subsequently follow. Using both main runways and part of the perimeter roads, the course was laid out with oil barrels and straw bales, spectators held back from the track edge by nothing more robust than a rope line. Competitors also found themselves heading headlong towards each other at top speed where the two runways ended with sharp hairpins.