From 100,000 fans to ghost town: Silverstone has quiet 70th birthday

Just over 70 years ago, 100,000 fans poured into Silverstone, a decommissioned Second World War airfield, to witness the first race of a new-look Formula One world championship.

This weekend, there will be none.

With international sport still in the grip of the coronavirus, most events are taking place behind closed doors and F1 is no different.

Virtual world

— Fans can still get a taste of the action this weekend, albeit virtually. 

McLaren has invited 500 fans to sit in a “virtual stand” where they can talk to drivers Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz just before Sunday’s race. 

Williams, another legendary British team, has a similar offering to “experience the excitement of a Grand Prix while staying comfortably at home”.

Longer, faster

— There should have been 22 races this year, but just 15 are now scheduled.

It’s still more than the seven which were contested in 1950.

Sunday’s race will be the second at Silverstone in a week.

Last weekend it was the British Grand Prix; this Sunday, it will be the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix to mark the landmark date.

It will also be the 1,023rd grand prix of the modern era. 

Having staged the first race in 1950, Silverstone, was ideal for hosting the anniversary party even if the guests will be few and far between.

The circuit has changed a lot in 70 years, lengthening from 4.649km to 5.891km while the lap record has dropped from 1min 50.8sec to 1min 24.303sec – some 26 seconds less to cover 1.2km more.

The names of the major corners, such as Maggotts, Becketts and Stowe, have remained the same and the vibe at Silverstone, when spectators are present, is considered to be timeless, unique to one of the last “temples” of F1 where racing has been long term.

The other nerve centres are just as storied – Monaco, Spa in Belgium and Monza in Italy. 

Back in 1950, Indianapolis, in the United States, was also part of the F1 world championship. 

On that equally legendary circuit, the famous Indy 500 will take place in two weeks’ time.

That fabled race can hold up to 350,000 spectators. This year, it too will be behind closed doors.

Alfa Romeo standout

— Meanwhile, the only brand present on Sunday at Silverstone which was also on the 1950 starting grid will be Alfa Romeo.

Giuseppe Farina brought home the victory for them 70 years ago.

Ferrari, the high-end marque of F1, did race in the maiden 1950 championship but didn’t figure in the English race.

Thai, Monaco still on track

— However, 70 years ago there was a Thai driver on the circuit – Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh, known as Prince Bira, and a Monegasque, Louis Chiron. 

On Sunday, their heirs will take part – Thai driver Alexander Albon with Red Bull, and Monaco’s Charles Leclerc behind the wheel of a Ferrari.